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An Idea Whose Time has Come…Again: Spending Reduction Committee

To paraphrase a well-worn phrase: It’s the spending, stupid.

As such, a coalition of eight Republican state assemblymen and 28 leaders of various citizen groups and party organizations recently submitted a letter to Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera urging the creation of a joint, bi-partisan Spending Reduction Committee.

The “anti-appropriations committee” would be modeled after a former congressional committee created by Democrat Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia during World War II. The committee, made up of eight Democrats and four Republicans, was charged with identifying waste and inefficiencies in government spending and recommending their elimination and repeal.

While Sen. Horsford characterized the Nevada proposal a “good idea,” Speaker Oceguera rejected it out of hand. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “Oceguera said there is no way he would create a new committee because it would duplicate what the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees already do – review spending and propose increases or reductions.”

But as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform noted in a column last June, 12 of the 14 “Byrd Committee” members came from the House and Senate Appropriations committees, as well as the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance. It’s just that the focus for this separate spending reduction committee was on, well, spending reductions.

Oceguera also maintained that “committees take a lot of staff time and resources” and that it made no sense “to spend more money doing what we are already doing.”

Au contraire, mon frere. A cost/benefit analysis of the Byrd Committee is just short of mind-blowing. The committee spent less than $50,000 “for all purposes” while recommending cuts totaling $2.5 billion. Talk about bang for your buck!

As for the cost of adding committees, perhaps Speaker Oceguera should have a little talk with the Majority Leader about the three new committees Sen. Horsford has created for this upcoming session?

In any event, a similar Spending Reduction Committee in Nevada would continue the work of the SAGE (Spending and Government Efficiency) Commission and be consistent with its recommendation for the creation of an outside Evaluation and Sunset Commission to “make recommendations concerning statutorily created state agencies, boards and commissions regarding duplication of efforts, efficiencies to be achieved and potential elimination of functions.”

This is hardly an “extreme right-wing” recommendation. As I recall, about half of the SAGE Commission members were Democrats, including former Nevada Democratic National Committeewoman Jan Jones and former state Assemblyman David Goldwater.

But while the creation of an ongoing outside evaluation commission to further identify waste and inefficiencies in government when the Legislature is not in session is an excellent idea, the immediate creation of a joint committee in the upcoming legislative session charged with evaluating and enacting the SAGE recommendations, as well as proposing some cuts of its own, is critical in this budgetary environment.

It does us no good to waste time and resources on important and productive efforts such as those of the SAGE Commission if its recommendations are simply going to sit on a shelf and never be acted upon. The Nevada Legislature should take at least as much interest in eliminating wasteful government spending as it does in appropriating new spending.

And for those who maintain we’ve already “cut to the bone,” Pete Ernaut, former chief-of-staff to the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, estimates that “there’s a good $500 or $600 million that we just throw away” on duplicative “pet projects” in the current general fund budget. That would certainly give the new Spending Reduction Committee a great place to start.

Oh, and they just might want to look into the $30,000 Speaker Oceguera just spent to build a new fitness center inside the legislative building for legislators with taxpayer dollars, in addition to another $60,000 to remodel his office to add a private conference room in a building filled with conference rooms.

That’s enough money to pay the salaries of two elementary school teachers for an entire year, isn’t it? Where are Speaker Oceguera’s priorities?

(You can add your name to the list of signers urging the creation of a Spending Reduction Committee by clicking here)