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State treasurer budget ‘embarrassing’

CARSON CITY — State Treasurer Dan Schwartz on Thursday ran into a bipartisan buzz saw of lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee who called his alternative budget proposal embarrassing and politically motivated.

Schwartz, a Republican conservative who rode Gov. Brian Sandoval’s popularity to victory in November, has drawn the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike for publicly criticizing the governor’s $7.3 billion general fund budget proposal that involves $1.1 billion in new or extended taxes.

Schwartz presented a three-page alternative budget that was shredded by members of the finance panel as incomplete and unreasonable.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, accused Schwartz of hijacking the legislative process and suggested the treasurer lacked a basic understanding of the budget.

Schwartz said state law requires him to provide information to the Legislature on any subject connected with the treasury.

“So, Mr. Treasurer, you believe that justifies hijacking the process and bringing forth a three-page budget, your budget? For political purposes?” Roberson said.

The two sparred on who was playing the political trump card.

“I’m in shock and dismay that you would be here today proposing this,” Roberson said. “I’m embarrassed for you, sir.”

Schwartz defended his alternative.

“I have no embarrassment whatsoever over what I proposed,” Schwartz said.

“I’m sure you don’t,” Roberson fired back. “I’m done with my questions.”

Schwartz initially proposed imposing a $5 surcharge on travelers passing through the airports in Las Vegas before he was informed such a move was illegal.

On Thursday he proposed a new, 25-cent fee on hotel restaurant-bar receipts, which he argued would mostly be paid by tourists and could generate $250 million.

Schwartz objected to Sandoval’s proposed business license fee based on gross receipts, saying that source of revenue “has been soundly rejected by Nevada voters.”

Instead, he said Nevada should increase casino taxes and cut programs, but that it was up to lawmakers to decide what to chop.

“Do we need $78 million for full-day kindergarten?” Schwartz asked. “Should we spend $36 million to combat bullying?”

Sandoval Chief of Staff Mike Willden said he was “insulted” by Schwartz’s criticism of the budget.

“We have done our due diligence. We have put together what I believe is a fair and reasonable budget,” said Willden, a 40-year government employee.

The budgeting process began a year ago, when agencies and the administration identified $8 billion in needs, Willden said, adding the administration made the tough choices and eventually whittled down the two-year spending plan that was compiled and released last month.

Thursday’s hearing was packed by parents of children with autism, who one after the other took to the microphone to criticize Schwartz’s suggestion that funding for autism programs is wasteful.

Sandoval’s budget includes $73 million to expand programs for autistic children.

Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, told Schwartz that “if altruism and morality cannot persuade you,” federal courts have ruled that autism therapy is required under law.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the document Schwartz provided to his office in early February amounts to a press release and warned the treasurer’s action could have repercussions on the state’s credit rating.

“Ultimately there are consequences,” said Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who added that Schwartz’s proposed budget was brought up in at least one conference call state officials had Wednesday with three credit rating agencies.

“I find this to be at best in poor judgment and at worst an incredible risk,” Kieckhefer said.

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