Legislative panel backs taking $50 million from hospitals’ indigent funds

CARSON CITY — A legislative budget committee agreed today to take nearly $50 million in funds counties used to reimburse hospitals for treating indigent patients hurt in accidents, although legislators said they still intend in coming days to find a way to come up with the funds.

“This is a critical week,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno. “We have to find some way to alleviate this loss to local government. I am going to serve notice my support is based on alleviating this loss to local government.”

“When you are $2.5 billion short, you are making difficult choices,” added Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas.

Buckley said she also wants to find a way to offset the loss to counties and hospitals.

“But there is a limit with such a big shortfall,” she said.

Gov. Jim Gibbons recommended in his proposed budget that the state take the money — which comes from property taxes levied on residents — and use it to plug the state general fund shortfall.

But county hospital officials and the Nevada Association of Counties strongly protested, saying they still have to provide the service to indigent patients and the lack of revenue would jeopardize the financial viability of rural, county-owned hospitals.

Gibbons and legislators agreed during the December special session to take the current year’s $25 million indigent accident fund revenue to cover part of the shortfall in the budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The $50 million covers funds that hospitals would have received in the July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2011, period.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, was the only legislator to vote “no” during the joint Senate-Assembly joint budget committee hearing.

“I have a real problem with this maneuver the governor is pulling,” Coffin said. “It makes it appear we have created a hole in the budget when the governor has stolen property taxes from local citizens.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, asked Coffin if he wanted to raise taxes.

“Yes if you will let me,” responded Coffin, who is chairman of the Senate Taxation Committee.

 

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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