Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2017

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Sun Editorial:

Transparency, please

Governor should follow standard, make budget documents public

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In years past, governors have released a full list of budget requests before the Legislature meets for its biennial session. Two years ago, Gov. Brian Sandoval did so, but this year, his administration is changing course.

As David McGrath Schwartz reported on, the Sandoval administration has withheld from public view millions of dollars of spending requests from state agencies that normally should have been released by now. Although the administration says it is within legal bounds, Brenda Erdoes of the Legislative Counsel Bureau said the administration is breaking with the “historical interpretation of the statute.”

At issue are “items for special consideration” — plans that didn’t make it into the governor’s proposed budget but could be introduced if the revenue picture is brighter than forecast. In a statement, Sandoval budget chief Jeff Mohlenkamp said the requests “are not public unless they become part of the governor’s budget.” He added:

“There could be wish lists — this could go on forever if you say, ‘What are things people want that aren’t included in the budget?’ I don’t think it’s fair to speculate on things that are not in the budget.”

However, the law is clear: The state budget chief — that would be Mohlenkamp — is required to provide, by Oct. 15, each agency’s “requested budget for the next two fiscal years.”

It doesn’t say anything about wish lists or speculation, nor does it limit the release to only what the governor signs off on. To make matters worse, the administration has ordered agencies not to discuss the special items.

That’s wrong. Although the governor proposes the budget, it’s the Legislature that passes the budget. It should have all of the information from the agencies to consider.

The Legislature only has 120 days in regular session to pass a budget. That’s why the law requires that the administration provide budget requests in enough time for some study and deliberation.

Beyond Mohlenkamp’s statement, it’s unclear why the Sandoval administration is refusing to provide the budget requests; officials wouldn’t discuss it with Schwartz.

Withholding the information will give Sandoval an upper hand in budget negotiations. Without the information, lawmakers will be hard-pressed to consider anything but what the administration has put forth.

The agency requests are particularly important this year. The governor has not yet made a decision on whether to expand Medicaid, a decision that will be considered by the Legislature. The budget request for expanding Medicaid would be expected to show some important financial calculations that could help lawmakers understand the issue and the potential implications of expanding it.

There are many other issues that may be covered in the items being withheld. That’s why transparency, which has been standard in Nevada, is a matter of good government. It not only allows lawmakers more time to consider the budget, but it also gives the public a way to see what’s going on in Carson City. This is not the time to be less transparent.

By not releasing the information, the Sandoval administration is threatening to further erode the public’s trust in government, as people will wonder what the state is hiding.

It shouldn’t be that way. The governor should reverse course and release the information.

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