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Shifting costs to local government, elimination of waste, could be part of Sandoval budget plan


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A close adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval says there are alternatives to balancing the state budget besides cutting programs or raising fees and taxes, and he identified some possibilities that could find their way into the proposed spending plan to be released later this month.

Pete Ernaut, who helped Sandoval win the governor’s office in the Nov. 2 general election, said in an interview Monday on Jon Ralston’s Face to Face television program that some cost shifting to local governments is one option available to help balance the state general fund budget.

He said the budget, which Sandoval has said will not include new taxes or fees, will be a “shared sacrifice.”

One potential cost shift is child welfare, Ernaut said.

The state has been transitioning child welfare to Clark and Washoe counties, but the state is still paying the bill, he said. The costs for child welfare have nearly doubled from 2001 to date while the caseloads have remained flat, he said. This is due primarily to higher labor costs at the county level, where there is collective bargaining, than at the state level.

Ernaut also said there is a precedent in 30 other states where there is a local funding mechanism to assist in paying for the cost of higher education. Nevada’s higher education system is funded primarily by the state general fund.

Ernaut also estimated there is as much as $500 million or more wasted in the state budget on duplicate programs.

“We spend so much money in duplicate areas because there are pet projects that do virtually the same thing,” he said. “You know and I know, people are not being truthful . . . , with how much there is in ways of savings and efficiencies.

“I’ll bet you right now, that if you just went through it with a businessman’s mentality, of just taking away the duplication and waste, there is a good $500 million or $600 million that we just throw away,” Ernaut said.

That amount of money would be a boon to the public education system, he said.

“Don’t confuse raising taxes with raising revenue,” he said.

Ernaut said he does not know what level of potential savings may be part of Sandoval’s budget.

Heidi Gansert, Sandoval’s chief of staff, said Monday the governor’s budget remains a work in progress.

Details will emerge when Sandoval delivers his state-of-the-state address on Jan. 24.

But Sandoval only has about $5.3 billion to spend, well below current funding levels due to expiring tax increases and the loss of federal stimulus funds that won’t be available in the next budget.

Ernaut is a former chief of staff to the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, and also served in the state Assembly. He is currently president of public affairs with R&R Partners.

Audio clips:

Pete Ernaut, adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, says there is duplication and waste in state government:

010411Ernaut1 :18 savings and efficiencies.”

Ernaut says there could be $500 million in savings from improved efficiencies:

010411Ernaut2 :19 of a difference.”

Ernaut says don’t confuse raising taxes with raising revenue:

010411Ernaut3 :14 taking things back.”

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