Nevada’s Freedom Budget 2009-2011

Executive Summary


Policymakers in the Silver State find themselves at a crossroad in state history as they tackle the challenge of setting a new budget plan for the 2009-11 biennium. As policymakers create the new budget, they must decide whether Nevada will continue on the path of unrelenting government expansion that legislators have followed in recent years or whether they will respond to new economic challenges by crafting a budget that will spur recovery and safeguard the long-term interests of the state's citizens.

The recommendations outlined in this budget — "Nevada's Freedom Budget 2009-2011: The Road to Recovery" — will give resourceful policymakers a range of highly detailed and effective ideas to draw upon as they meet the challenge of balancing a state budget that protects Nevadans from burdensome tax increases. The recommendations made here are specific alterations to the Executive Budget 2009-20111 that was submitted by the governor.

Guiding Principles

This alternative budget was influenced by a set of guiding principles that provide insight and clarity into how Nevada's state government should be structured. These principles are:

1. Setting Priorities: When resources are limited, it is necessary to set clear priorities and determine which programs are most important to the long-term health of Nevadans and which are relatively expendable. In addition, public funds should be budgeted for the purchase of demonstrable results that are of meaningful benefit to the state. As such, any programs that have not demonstrated themselves to be effective at achieving their purported goals should be discarded in favor of higher-priority uses of public money.

2. Consistency: State fiscal policy should take a consistent approach that treats all individuals fairly and equitably. Tax breaks and government expenditures that benefit only specific groups at the expense of all others should be eliminated and discouraged in the future.

3. Agency Thrift: Often the individuals with the greatest knowledge on how to reduce the cost of government services are the government employees who provide those services. The institutional knowledge of these employees can inform them of specific incidences of inefficiency within their agencies that can be corrected by altering the methods of operation. Hence, when agency officials claim the ability to accomplish a task at lower cost than the governor requests on their behalf, this budget recommends that the agency's request be granted. While the governor's requests may often reflect admirable intentions of expanding funding to worthwhile endeavors, this budget cycle is regrettably characterized by significant fiscal challenges and any thrift that can be provided by government agencies should be pursued aggressively.

4. Last In, First Out: The Freedom Budget recognizes that government programs have recently expanded rapidly in the Silver State. Following the largest tax increases in Nevada's history in 2003, tax revenues rose to record levels. Policymakers eagerly responded to flush coffers by creating a bevy of new government programs or program expansions in the 2005 and 2007 legislative sessions. Yet, the Silver State experienced vibrant health and economic growth prior to the existence of these new programs. As a result, the Freedom Budget curtails these new or expanded programs first.

Budgeting for the Future

Policymakers will note that the Freedom Budget achieves significant cost savings over the Executive Budget submitted by the governor while maintaining or even restoring funding to the state's most vital operations. At a total General Fund allocation of $5.13 billion, appropriations under the Freedom Budget would amount to roughly $1.04 billion less than under the Executive Budget.

In spite of this dramatic cost savings, the Freedom Budget is able to restore more than $85 million to Human Services in order to care for the mentally ill, indigents and the severely disabled. In addition, this budget restores more than $176 million to the Nevada System of Higher Education and entirely avoids operating reductions at the state's regional colleges. Nearly $80 million is restored to the Department of Education in order
to finance the purchase of learning materials with which to educate Nevada's children.

These reallocations reflect Nevada's highest priorities and combine with a low tax burden to pave the way to a stable and prosperous future and facilitate a faster economic recovery.

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Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.