Pack of cowards

The Nevada Legislature is once again avoiding tough fiscal decisions by dumping them on localities. And Gov. Brian Sandoval is right in there with them.

Unwilling to pay the political price for unpopular budget decisions, legislators and the governor are walking away from those decisions by making local officials take them on. They are stripping local governments of needed funds and, to add insult to cowardice, are also telling counties to take on more state functions.

The governor “balanced” the budget he recommended to legislators by taking $24 million from Washoe County and $58 million from Clark County. He wants to add revenue to state coffers without having to make the politically risky decisions to raise taxes. Instead, he is trying to wreak havoc on local governments in order to keep his reckless no-new-taxes campaign pledge. But the result is the same—higher state spending and local officials being forced to enact the tax hikes.

Counties are being stripped of money for medical, mental health, substance abuse, homeless, child welfare, child support enforcement, consumer protection, juvenile rehabilitation and disabled child programs. And state duties are being dumped on the counties in areas like medical services, child welfare, some mental health programs, youth parole and pre-sentencing investigations.

This is happening after the counties have already experienced sweeping cuts and lost huge amounts of revenue during the recession.

State legislators are not entirely in agreement with the governor on which functions should be shifted and what monies should be heisted from the counties, but those are details—on the practices of raiding local treasuries and avoiding hard decisions, they are right in sync.

When state legislators are asked about these practices, they inevitably point out that in Nevada, unlike most states, counties are the “creatures of the state.” Their point is that they have the authority to take money from the counties.

But that’s not the issue. It’s not a matter of whether lawmakers can do it. It’s very clear that they have the power. That does not mean they should. If they want more revenue, they need to cast the tough votes to raise that money themselves, not use county officials as cats’ paws to do it for them.

“The services that local government created should be the local governments’ responsibility and those services created by the state should be the state’s responsibility,” said Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins in January.

Washoe County Commissioner Bonnie Weber is concerned that Gerlach could be left with the bare bones of fire protection because of planned shifts in fire personnel from that tiny community to Reno.

What the legislature and governor have planned does not solve the state’s fiscal problems. After they dump their problems on local governments, legislators and the governor will stand off at a safe distance and watch the counties do the real work—state spectators rather than participants in solving Nevada’s budget problems.

It is in crisis that we learn of what our officials are made. State legislators and the governor are showing this to us very clearly.