Competing budgets

In a challenge to Gov. Brian Sandoval, State Treasurer Dan Schwartz has issued his own proposed state budget recommendations.

The Nevada Constitution reads, “The Governor shall submit the proposed executive budget to the Legislature not later than 14 calendar days before the commencement of each regular session.” If you missed seeing the treasurer’s office mentioned, that was not an oversight by the founders. If you went looking for the treasurer’s budget duties in the constitution, it would be a fruitless search. There’s aren’t any. All it says is that the treasurer will perform the duties “prescribed by law”—that is, assigned to the treasurer by the Legislature.

That’s OK. Anyone can sit down and propose an alternative budget—especially one like Schwartz’s.

Sandoval and his budget division spent months combing through the requested budgets of all state agencies, whittling them down, checking back with agencies for more information, reexamining functions before making final recommendations for each. His budget recommendations are 3,361 pages long and weigh a couple of pounds.

Schwartz didn’t do any of that. He jumped over those steps and went right to reaching conclusions without facts. He didn’t read all the agency memos making their cases for their original requests. He didn’t evaluate the need for slowing the loss of Nevada prison guards to other, better paying state prisons or county jails. He didn’t scrutinize the economic development travel budget. He didn’t examine a mental health system that is a national scandal and has been dumping patients out of state.

He just lopped the top off Sandoval’s recommended total, adjusted broad figures to fit, and urged the governor and Legislature to buy in. His “budget” is three pages long, and we could not find a scale on which it moved the needle. In other words, Sandoval had to make the tough calls. Schwartz, standing off at a safe distance, didn’t. If this is writing a budget, almost any Nevadan could be state budget director.

Nor, apparently, is Schwartz—who was educated in Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York—particularly in touch with what life is like in Nevada.

“But the Governor’s budget funds a vast expansion of the state’s educational system, a system that despite receiving generous funding in the past, has failed to deliver the goods,” Schwartz wrote, elsewhere referencing “ample revenue in the past” for health and education purposes. Perhaps he is a new arrival in Nevada.

Setting aside the fact that punctuation and other language problems in Schwartz’s narrative text argue for better schools, his only substantiation for this claim is “a state controller’s study.” The state controller is Ron Knecht, another right wing state official who recently wrote, “And the great K-12 spending growth of a few years ago has not yielded any improvement in student achievement.” That’s another assertion, not substantiation.

Nevada education has not been funded either generously or amply. It has been funded Spartanly. And while there is room for criticism of how that money has been spent, it is also fair to say that most administrators and teachers have tried hard to get all they could from the available money. Republicans like Schwartz have become accustomed to pitting people against each other, but his search for villains here should fall flat.

Sandoval’s budget is far from perfect, but if a challenge is to be made to it, it will have to come from someplace other than the treasurer.