Nevada’s budget: Cuts? What cuts?

Victor Joecks

That’s the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s take on Nevada’s budget situation.

We’ll say it again: There will be no cuts in the 2009-11 budget — only more spending increases.

It’s so simple even a liberal blogger can understand it.

The Legislature passed a $5.9 billion, two-year budget in 2005. Lawmakers passed a $6.8 billion budget in 2007, but revenue shortfalls caused by the recession forced lawmakers to modify those spending increases. When the current biennium ends June 30, the state will have spent between $6.2 billion and $6.3 billion on general fund programs, about 7 percent more than the budget before.

If Sen. Horsford’s math is correct, and the Legislature ends up passing a $6.9 billion budget for 2009-11, state spending will increase 10 percent over current levels. That’s right: State government will grow by double digits under the new budget when compared with the current, modified one — the one that’s 7 percent bigger than the one before.

But those facts won’t get in the way of the nonsense that continues to come out of Carson City. You’ll still hear and read the word “cut” a few hundred times before lawmakers adjourn in early June.

Those “cuts” will represent imaginary reductions from one of two bogus figures: the huge funding increases authorized in the 2007 budget that were never met because of the revenue shortfalls, and the pie-in-the-sky, what-we-wish-we-could-spend amounts most agencies requested for 2009-11 but knew they had no chance of getting.

Thus, anyone who claims the general fund should be about $8 billion to “maintain current services” (whatever that means) can say the budget reflects across-the-board cuts of 12 to 13 percent. Still a bit foggy on the math? Imagine a 10-year-old asking for a 50 percent increase in his allowance, but upon getting only a 10 percent boost, crying that his pay had been cut 40 percent.

“So simple even a liberal blogger can understand it.” Unfortunately, some of our legislators don’t get it. I watched the joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly taxation committees and the chair specifically asked someone giving testimony if the legislature had made cuts – “painful” cuts – unlike what the RJ said. He dutifully agreed.

So let’s check the RJ’s math. Nevada spent $5.9 billion from 2005-07. Nevada spent $6.2 billion from 07-09. And Nevada is now poised to spend $6.9 billion.

Cuts? What cuts? At least the politicians’ motivation is clear. They want even more of your money.

If the public can be tricked into thinking that state government is being drastically cut back, even with a 10-figure tax hike, they’ll be more likely to support the, ahem, “revenue enhancements.”

But if they’re made wise to the fact that state government will continue growing at a healthy clip when household budgets, businesses and the economy as a whole are contracting — if they feel like they’re being tricked — they might say no.

Which is exactly why you’ll hear about nothing but “cuts, cuts, cuts.”