Money committees begin settling budget differences

Lawmakers took their first steps Friday toward resolving differences between the Assembly Ways and Means and the Senate Finance versions of the budget.

Compared to most previous sessions, there are few major disagreements. But the most serious of them -- a $237 million gap between how the committees voted on public education budgets -- wasn't on Friday's agenda.

Most of the issues on the first budget differences agenda were worked out behind closed doors before the Democrats in charge in the Assembly and Republicans who run the Senate convened the meeting.

The largest single item was whether to put general fund money into operation of the controversial fire Science Academy at Carlin. That University of Nevada Reno project collapsed, leaving the campus with nearly $30 million owed. Student fees were increased to cover that cost even though students had nothing to do with the academy and receive no benefit from it.

The Assembly side objected to putting the operation costs in the budget but Friday agreed to go with the Senate version, a total cost to the state of $1.6 million over the next two years.

Senators also agreed to back the Assembly plan for expanding staff at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Both sides agreed to add 129 people to the overburdened DMV offices in Las Vegas but the Assembly put most of those positions on hold while DMV tries automated kiosks to see if they can reduce the need for live employees. Senators Friday agreed to the kiosk plan saying if it works, only about 50 new staff need be hired and if it doesn't, the Interim finance Committee can authorize hiring more people at DMV.

The two committees resolved a number of minor differences in different agency budgets but put off a decision on whether to include inflation costs in the prison food budgets. That is the only issue remaining in the prison budgets. The Senate has approved a 5 percent inflationary increase that will cost about $750,000 over the biennium. The Assembly, upset at the tone of a prison administration letter criticizing legislative staff, refused to approve the increase.

Prison officials pointed out they spend only $2.29 a day to feed each inmate compared to near double that in most Western states. They say costs are going up and that, when inmates are upset about food, it causes major problems in the prisons.

The two committees will take up that issue later.

A number of other decisions including whether to eliminate the state's Washington D.C. office, funding for Vital Statistics, Wildlife and the Veterans Home account were held along with disagreements over how to fund the Millennium Scholarship, prepaid tuition and other programs in the treasurer's budget.

But the two committees did agree to take $250,000 a year out of tourism's reserve for parks and another like amount for the arts council.

Budget decisions will continue Saturday before both money committees.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment