In the dark
There are substantial questions about whether the Bush administration has actually written the budget that George Bush announced in January. If not, it may make life difficult for Nevada state legislators.

The source of the problem is a chronic Bush administration practice—secrecy. State and local officials trying to find out how much impact the Bush budget is going to have on Nevadans keep running up against a lack of available information.

The administration claims—and national journalists have reported as fact—that the budget cuts numerous programs. But there is little proof, since so much information is missing from budget documents.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the situation is atypical: “One unusual aspect of this budget is the omission of information about how these cuts would affect particular programs. The budget fails to provide proposed funding levels for individual appropriated programs for years after 2006—the first time since 1989 that an Administration’s budget has lacked this type of information. As a consequence, the published, widely available budget documents released by the Administration on February 7 provide programmatic details on how the Administration would achieve only the first $18 billion of these cuts, the reductions that would occur in 2006. Some $196 billion in domestic cuts—all of the reductions in years 2007 through 2010—are left unidentified.”

The long-range numbers are particularly important to those six states—Nevada is one—whose legislatures meet only every other year.

The Center also says the lack of information is not just in national security spending, but across the board—”education, environmental protection, transportation, veterans’ health care, medical research, law enforcement, and food and drug safety inspection.”

“It is still very early in the new (2006) budget cycle, and so it is a little early to draw conclusions,” Secrecy News editor Steve Aftergood says. “But already some problems are visible. For example, up until 2004, the Energy Department always published a descriptive account of its Office of Intelligence as part of its annual budget request. That section is no longer included in the public budget. I don’t know of anyone who has done a systematic study of how the budget request has changed. But anecdotally, less information is being made available across the board.”

The Energy Department administers the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project in Nevada.

Clark County Assemblymember Chris Giunchigliani, vice chairwoman of the Assembly’s budget committee, says the lack of information means lawmakers are writing a budget in the dark.

“It is very frustrating that we won’t know the impact on the state until long after [final adjournment]. We will more than likely close budgets [without enough information] and cause future budget shortfalls, especially in education and human service areas.”

Nevada lawmakers always must exercise as much foresight as possible because they are writing budgets two years in advance. The Bush administration withholding information on the federal budget is complicating that task even more than usual.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...