Assembly Democrats present governmental reform package

Assembly Democrats on Tuesday laid out a package of bills they say is designed to reform state government, cut costs and improve efficiency.

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said reform is vital because of the estimated $2.5 billion shortfall the state is facing.

"We have to make sure every single dollar is working harder to be effective," he said in an afternoon press conference.

He said a bill will be introduced designed to implement a performance-based budgeting system for state agencies that sets priorities, cuts cost and increases transparency to the public. He said that would include setting benchmarks for agencies and issuing public report cards on the Department of Administration website to tell the public how well agencies are meeting those goals.

He said agencies would be held accountable for improving their performance.

The plan also would authorize agencies to hold public hearings on the proposed budget between October and January before each legislative session to get input on their plans.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said Assembly Bill 241 would put unspent state funding into two rainy day funds, one for K-12 education and the other for the university system. She said half of the money reverted to the state at the end of each fiscal year would go to those funds to build up a surplus that can help education through future economic crises.

Smith said Assembly Bill 240 reforming the state process for hiring consultants is also part of the package. She pointed to an audit released last year that found a number of "fairly outrageous" consulting contracts with consultants - many of them current or former state workers - at far higher rates than those doing the same work as state employees.

The Sandoval administration also is preparing a plan to bring those contracts under control and Smith said she expects the two proposals to work together on the issue.

The bill also would require anyone doing business with the state to have a business license registered with the Secretary of State's office.

Assembly Bill 242 by Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-Las Vegas, would streamline and expand the process for the state to review and audit nonprofit organizations receiving state money. She said they would be required to report activities to the state, who their services go to and how the state's money is spent.

The existing system, Kirkpatrick said, is far too cumbersome and has allowed some instances where funding was not used for what it was intended.

According to Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, Assembly Bill 239 is designed to increase transparency in government by requiring all government entities to post minutes of all meetings on their websites within 30 days after the meeting and require those agencies to furnish exhibits to the public.

The Legislature itself, however, would not be required to meet that mandate since lawmakers long ago exempted themselves from the open meeting law.

Finally, Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, called for efforts to increase the amount of tax dollars returned to Nevada by the federal government. He said as of 1995, Nevada received just 73 cents on the dollar back for it's tax contributions to the feds. By 2005, he said it was down to 65 cents.

But Parks conceded that much of the reason for that gap is that Nevada has chosen not to participate in a number of large but optional programs, primarily in health and human services agencies such as Medicaid.


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