Baptism by Fire

The Associated Press ran a story yesterday called “Rookies will be  big factor in 2011 Legislature.”  The article notes that newcomers will hold at least 17 of the 42 spots in the Assembly, and at least 8 of the 21 spots in the Senate (with some allowances for legislators who avoid term limits and remain in the Legislature by swapping houses).  The story notes that the 2011 Legislature will be confronted with at least two enormous challenges:  the growing gap between government expenses and revenues; and reapportionment of Nevada’s legislative districts.

The challenges in tackling those issues will be exacerbated by several factors.  The last year saw the retirement of the two most senior fiscal analysts at the Legislative Counsel Bureau (although their replacements are experienced veterans in their own right).  The amount Nevada spends on Medicaid continues to climb as unemployment remains high.  The unemployment insurance trust fund is depleted and the state is borrowing money from the federal government to cover unemployment benefits.  On top of that, there are some major tax refund cases pending dealing with complimentary casino meals and the taxability of coal, both of which could further upset the already tenuous budget outlook.  Furthermore, the largest counties in the state are beginning to experience significant downturns in revenue as property tax assessments decline in response to foreclosures and falling home values, which could trigger additional state expenses in order to hold education harmless by maintaining basic school support levels.

These challenges may leave many of the rookie legislators wondering just what they got themselves into come February 2011 when the Legislature convenes for its 120 day biennial session.  Of course, while the challenges will be daunting, there will also be plentiful opportunities for positive and imaginative reform.

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