(Annie Black) – Over the summer the Nevada Legislature convened in special session to fill a $1.2 billion hole created by the #SisolakShutdown in the current budget cycle. They did it primarily by draining the state’s rainy-day fund and implementing various smoke-and-mirror budget gimmicks.
That effort is going to seem like a walk in the park compared to what the Legislature will have to do when it meets in regular session next February to stop the ongoing bleeding. Either major spending cuts or major tax hikes or a combination of both are the only options.
I’ve already taken tax hikes off the table by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Which led a Democrat lobbyist to ask recently what I would cut instead.
While a legitimate question, it’s also a bit unfair. Here’s why…
In Nevada, the governor proposes a budget and the Legislature then tinkers with it around the edges. In crafting his budget, the governor enjoys a army of taxpayer-funded budget analysts and staff working over a period of many months.
Legislators, on the other hand, are part-time citizens, not professional lawmakers with a full-time staff to review and analyze government spending. If they did, the “What would you cut?” question would be fairer.
Give me several months, a staff of budget cutters and a case of red pens and Nevadans would be looking at tax CUTS right now instead of tax hikes. And the process is actually pretty simple.
All we need to do is invoke the “Sisolak Rule.”
When Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak shut our state down last March, he arbitrarily separated Nevada’s businesses and jobs into two categories: essential and non-essential.
Then he unilaterally shut down every business he considered non-essential, which resulted in laying off hundreds of thousands of what he considered to be “non-essential” workers.
What he DIDN’T do was cut non-essential government programs, agencies and departments or lay off non-essential government workers. And by refusing to inflict on the government the same agonizing pain he’s inflicted on the rest of us, the ongoing situation is far worse than it should be.
Make no mistake. The severity of the impending budget crisis is due solely to Gov. Sisolak’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. But the problem of politicians addicted to spending other people’s money – from both parties – has been around forever.
In fact, Nevada governors and the Legislature have jacked up government spending by about $1 billion in each of the last three sessions before the COVID-19 hit us. Now it’s time to identify non-essential spending worthy of the budget ax.
But it’s hard to find something you’re not looking for.
That’s where my proposed CONES Act (Cut Out Non-Essential Spending) comes into play. And it’s not a new concept.
In 2008, then-Gov. Jim Gibbons established the privately-funded SAGE Commission to study ways to make government more efficient and less costly. A noble first-step effort, but reminds me of something Barry Goldwater wrote…
“I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size.”
In any event, after 18 months of study the SAGE Commission made 44 recommendations that “could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the short run and billions over the next decade and have the potential to add tens of millions of dollars to state revenues without increasing taxes.”
Unfortunately, the Legislature refused to adopt and implement most of the recommendations and the SAGE Report is now, sadly, gathering dust on bookshelves.
Fortunately, however, there’s an even better structural reform that could take the one-time SAGE Commission effort and put some teeth in it.
Back in 2010, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, wrote about the Joint Committee on Reduction of Nonessential Federal Expenditures – better known as the Byrd Committee – which was established in 1941 at the start of World War II.
Named after Sen. Harry F. Byrd (D-VA), the committee’s “sole mission was to identify nonessential federal expenditures and recommend their elimination or reduction” so as to “pay for the war effort not by raising taxes but by reducing non-defense government spending.”
The ANTI-Appropriations Committee
The key to this anti-appropriations committee’s success was that it was ongoing (until 1974) and had a full staff with “subpoena power to compel bureaucrats to testify and open up their books.”
During the war years, Mr. Norquist notes, the Byrd Committee spent just under $46,000 while making recommendations that resulted in direct and indirect savings of over $3 billion (in 1945 dollars). So the cost of establishing and operating the committee cost “less than $20 for every million dollars saved.”
That’s a darned impressive return on investment for taxpayers. And it happened while the president was a Democrat and Democrats controlled Congress!
In the 2021 session, the Nevada Legislature should combine both the SAGE Commission and the Byrd Committee models and create a permanent legislative CONES Committee devoted solely to following the “Sisolak Rule” and proposing bills to cut non-essential state government spending.
Here’s just one example I wrote about back in July…
“Which brings me to Nicole Kiley.
“According to a recent article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Ms. Kiley is a full-time, taxpayer-funded ‘dietitian’ at UNLV who provides ‘nuanced detailed guidelines tailored to the needs of the 500-plus student-athletes at the university.’
“Among the services she provides is ‘virtually sifting through their refrigerators as a means to provide the best advice possible.’
“Sorry, Charlie. That’s just not ‘essential’ at any time, let alone in the current budget environment. Any student-athlete interested in learning more about good nutrition can simply Google it or check with their doctor like the rest of us.”
Sure, Ms. Kiley’s salary may seem like chump change when you compare it to the entirety of the state budget. But as they say, a dollar here and a dollar there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
To get out of the budget hole Gov. Sisolak has dug for us, we don’t need to raise taxes. Or even do more with less. We simply need to do less with less by eliminating non-essential spending. Not just during the current COVID budget crisis, but for generations to come.
All in favor say “aye.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” – President Ronald Reagan
Annie Black is a Mesquite City Councilwoman and Assemblywoman-elect for Nevada State Assembly District 19. You can get more information by visiting www.electannieblack.com