Nevada lawmakers oppose tourism-economic merger | SierraSun.com

Nevada lawmakers oppose tourism-economic merger

BRENDAN RILEY
Associated Press Writer

CARSON CITY, Nev. ” Republicans joined Monday with Democrats on a legislative budget panel to oppose GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons’ plan to merge commissions on economic development and on tourism in tourist-dependent Nevada.

Nevada faces a $2 billion-plus revenue shortfall in the next two fiscal years, but the Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee members agreed, as expected, that the $400,000 saved in that period by combining the two agencies wasn’t a good idea.

“We need these folks to be functioning well right now,” said Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, in joining in the subcommittee opposition to the merger of the state Tourism Commission and the state Economic Development Commission.

“I just don’t think it makes sense. The savings aren’t big enough, so I would be supportive of no merger,” Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, added as the budget panel members formalized a stance that had taken shape in earlier budget hearings.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, agreed that the potential benefits to the economy by having both commissions operating separately were more important during Nevada’s current economic slump.

In related action, the subcommittee rejected Gibbons’ plan to eliminate the Economic Development Commission’s Las Vegas-based deputy director, bringing up the same arguments that now is not the time to pull back on efforts to improve the economy.

“That’s where all the action is at, down south,” Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said in arguing for retaining the deputy director’s position. Subcommittee members said the $226,000 cost over two years can probably be covered by savings in other areas.

The lawmakers held off on taking a position on the governor’s plan to eliminate three economic development staff positions. One option would be to rely on contracts to get some of the work now done by those staffers.

The staffing issue is among various details to be worked out before overall budgets for both commissions can be finalized.

Regarding the merger, the legislators had been told by representatives of the two commissions that there’s little overlap in their job functions, and that Gibbons’ organizational chart for the combined agency would basically replicate what exists now.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who as chairman of both commissions had opposed the merger plan, praised the lawmakers for their recommendation to keep the panels separate, saying it was “a thoughtful approach” and “incredibly wise.”

While the recommendation likely will make it through the legislators’ budget-writing process, Horsford cautioned that nothing is final “until we see everything rolled up.” Lawmakers hope to resolve all budget differences by mid-May.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger has said the governor’s office asked all agencies to submit budget reductions, but then decided some health and human services budgets couldn’t be cut too deeply and that led to the plan for the tourism-economic development merger.