Economic Forum: Nevada will collect $5.33 billion in taxes

Victor Joecks

Let the budget games begin:

Nevada’s Economic Forum today projected that the state will have $5.33 billion dollars to spend in the 2012-2013 biennium.

It is roughly that which Governor-elect Brian Sandoval was discussing all along, but would be more than $1 billion less than the current two-year budget.

The forum did not include tax hikes, approved by the 2009 legislature, because they are supposed to sunset next year. If the legislature decides not to sunset those taxes, it could cut the deficit by more than $500 million.

Agency requests for the 2012-2013 biennium would put the budget at $8.3 billion, which is roughly $2.9 billion more than the economic forum projects. The projected $8.3 budget would include the end of furloughs for state workers and general rollups of current state programs.

This isn’t a surprise. Revenue had been projected to be set at around $5.4 billion.

The pressing question is this: How will the budget debate be framed?

In the last biennium, Nevada’s general fund spending was around $6.4 billion.

Now this math equation is fairly simple: $5.33 billion – $6.42 billion = a $1.09 billion deficit.

That’s about a 17 percent shortfall.

If this was six months ago, you’d likely here many claims in the media that Nevada is facing a $3 billion shortfall, based on assuming that Nevada’s agencies need to increase spending by 30 percent to $8.35 billion.

But to the credit of most members of the media, Andrew Clinger and governor-elect Brian Sandoval, accurate information about Nevada’s budget situation is now reported widely.

From Sandra Chereb of the Associated Press, to Ed Vogel of the Review-Journal, to Ray Hagar of the Reno-Gazette Journal, to the Lahontan Valley News, Nevada’s budget situation – that our state is facing a $1 billion, 17 percent drop in revenue – is now the accepted (and truthful) narrative.

Even the Las Vegas Sun’s David Schwartz, who’s joking on Twitter about NPRI’s insistence that the budget situation be accurately reported, has had the integrity to change how he’s reporting on the budget.

It was his article, $2.5 billion state budget deficit: ‘Best-case scenario’, that contributed to the $3 billion deficit myth in the first place, but note how he described the budget situation yesterday.

Sandoval has remained firm in the face of protests that cuts to balance the state’s $3 billion deficit in funding needed to maintain existing services will harm education, health and human services and the long-term well-being of the state. [Emphasis added]

Not quite as accurate and informative as Hagar’s description above (or the description of other reporters), but it’s an improvement.

Accurate reporting doesn’t mean that believers in limited government have won the debate, however. It just puts us in a position to have an intellectually honest discussion.

Fiscal conservatives now need to make the case that it’s better to decrease spending by about 17 percent and live within our means than to increase spending by 30 percent and continue Nevada’s pattern of unsustainable spending increases.

The budget battle is just beginning. But the good news is that we’ll be doing it with facts, not misleading rhetoric.