Thursday, December 6, 2012

No, Sando. We Have the Right to Know.

Yesterday, a furor erupted over Governor Brian Sandoval refusing to publicly release executive agencies' budget requests. Yet so far, Sandoval is sticking to his guns. And those in the legislative branch are becoming increasingly frustrated over this.

[State Senator Ben] Kieckhefer [R-Reno] was particularly concerned about the Medicaid data, saying that if Sandoval decides not to propose expanding Medicaid to the new eligible population, then the budget data collected to provide background on this item of special consideration might never be provided to lawmakers or the public. Kieckhefer said he would have a problem if that information was never made public.

Sandoval is not expected to announce his decision on expanding Medicaid until his State of the State address in January.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs said today he again asked the Sandoval administration for the budget information last week.

In an email, he said in part: “I was told that they were hoping to have a response for me last week. I haven’t heard anything from them about it since. We have not received access to the Items for Special Consideration, so we are unable to review it or provide it to the public.

“The (LCB) Legal Division has looked into it and believes that the law requires the Governor’s Office to provide to us and make available for the public the requests that agencies made for the upcoming biennium,” Combs said. “We believe it was the intent that the Legislature and the public have access to what the agencies requested rather than only a portion of what the agencies requested.”

But again, Sandoval refuses to make this information public. Rather, he's now making excuses for keeping secrets. And he's not handling criticism well.

Sandoval said it would be "irresponsible" to release those requests, called “items for special consideration,” which exceeded the state budget office’s spending cap.

"I won't go so far as saying it's speculative, but I can't answer what will be funded or not until I know exactly what caseloads are going to be or presented," he said. [...]

"Why would I give you a figure that's not accurate?" Sandoval asked reporters after a Board of Examiners meetings in the Capitol. "I'll give you a number and if it's not right you're going to turn around a week later when I get a better number and say I was wrong."

So now what's legal is "irresponsible"? Really, "Governor Sunny"?

We all know budgets can change. As economic data and tax collection figures continue to trickle in, adjustments may have to be made. That's governing.

What isn't good governing is ignoring state law and showing complete & utter disrespect to both the legislative branch and the people. Legislators need to know what state agencies need to properly function, not another Sandoval press release boasting about how "fiscally prudent" he is. And we the people have the right to know what's in those public (!!!) agency requests.

Jon Ralston is livid... And for all the right reasons. What about our right to know?

This is part of an ongoing attempt by a potent executive branch to erode what’s left of legislative authority. As one longtime capital observer reminded me, “Over the past several sessions, governors have been trying to avoid releasing too much information concerning agency requests, and putting limitations on direct communication between those heads and the Legislature or its staff (in the Gov's defense, you want to speak with one voice, and can't have agencies lobbying for their programs contrary to the Gov's decisions concerning the budget). One way to do this is to have agencies submit proposed budgets with strict limitations, then separately request ‘wish list’ items (aka ‘items for special consideration’).”

The net impact of this is to hide –yes, hide – from the Legislature and the public what agencies have requested, only allowing the superior caste, a k a the Executive Branch, to see what the governor has recommended. By using Orwellian redefinitions of what is an agency request, required to be put on public display by that law, and then restricting gubernatorial staff communication with lawmakers, as that one observer put it, “You have no ability on the part of the Legislature or its money committees to evaluate alternatives to the Governor's proposed budget.”

You don’t need a law degree to see that eviscerates the law – and may violate the Open Records Law, too; you don’t need a keen sense of right and wrong to see which side the governor has decided to come down on.

I truly do wonder what [the late Bill] Raggio, a stickler for tradition and keeper of the institution, would do if he were alive. Whatever action the master would have taken to short-circuit this not-so-sunny proposal, I hope the current legislative leadership does it. And if they won’t, the media should consider going to court to force the governor to be transparent.

This truly is frightening. As we were asking yesterday, what's he hiding? And why is hiding it? We the people have the right to know. And state legislators have the duty of obtaining all data necessary to make smart decisions on the next state budget. We don't need any more excuses from Brian Sandoval. We just need the budget requests.

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