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30


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 30, June 15, 1997

Analysis of a 'Budget Cut'

By Vin Suprynowicz
vin@lvrj.com

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         To operate at peak effectiveness, the confidence game that results in bloated bureaucratic budgets -- cancerous allocations metastasizing far faster than the rate of inflation -- requires two players.
         For the distracted and careworn public to be best deceived, it's necessary for the legislative branch to first make a stern pronouncement that the budget proposal in hand is excessive; way out of line. How dare they even think that we -- jealous guardians of the public's precious purse strings -- would contemplate such a budget? It must be slashed, do you hear us, slashed!
         Then, when the "slashing" is done, the appropriate department head is expected to issue a grudging statement of acquiescence, bravely (albeit with a quivering lip, so near is he to tears) vowing to "make do, somehow," even if it means recycling the paper clips, skimping on coal for the stove, and discontinuing the office Christmas party.
         For maximum effectiveness, it helps if a few employees in the background actually appear to be using their hankies and consoling one another over their shared misfortune. Gazing moodily out the windows, as though contemplating defenestration, is also permitted.
         Under no circumstances, however, should the victim of the "budget-slashing" smile broadly and point out that -- after the "slashing" -- his budget for next year will actually be 29 percent higher than last year's!
         It remains to be seen whether Nevada Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren will now correctly play out this scripted part, in order to conclude this year's ritual performance of the traditional melodrama "The Lieutenant Governor's Budget," in which the Nevada Assembly Ways and Means Committee executed its own role so admirably on June 7.
         You see, the current two-year budget for what is arguably one of the least needed "offices" in the Silver State is $498,900. Mr. Hammargren -- an idiosyncratic brain surgeon who presumably has more pressing things to do -- uses this money to pay a "chief of staff," former Assemblywoman Jeannine Coward, and for other purposes which grow less clear to me with time.
         I used to believe the lieutenant governor was using these funds to wine and dine visiting dignitaries and to travel to such hardship posts as Hollywood, Washington, and the sundry ancient capitals of Europe, promoting tourism, economic development, and the filming of more motion pictures in Nevada, the better to perpetuate the notion that the population of the Silver State consists primarily of mobsters, lap dancers, and whores, who take time out from rolling the tourists only long enough to duck their heads as hijacked planes full of convicts take the roofs off local edifices.
         (All these functions, of course, are already delegated to official state commissions, far better prepared to perform them than Dr. Hammargren -- though private outfits would doubtless do even better.)
         But now Mr. Hammargren asserts "Since my election to office I have contributed most of my salary back to the state of Nevada by paying most of my own expenses for much of my travel."
         Oh well. Wherever the $498,000 has been going, Mr. Hammargren -- never one to think small -- decided to ask for $744,806 for the next two years ... a budget hike of 49 percent.
         "Slashing" away, the Assembly money committee finally told Mr. Hammargren he will have to make do on $643,652 -- only a 29 percent hike.
         Mr. Hammargren wanted his out-of-state travel budget to be nearly tripled, from $5,980 to $16,460. The stern-faced committee told the miscreant will simply have to make do with $11,392 -- a paltry nudge of 92 percent.
         Mr. Hammargren asked that his chief of staff, Ms. Coward -- who is apparently surviving on stale Saltines and ketchup packets pilfered from the Capitol cafeteria -- receive a 40 percent raise. That proposal is still pending.
         The end result of these shenanigans? You guessed it: The Associated Press dutifully reported this week that the lieutenant governor's proposed budget had been "cut."
         Listen: The lieutenant governor of Nevada has no real duties, except to cast a rare tie-breaking vote in the state Senate. (Though the last time such an opportunity arose, Mr. Hammargren was nowhere to be found.)
         The time has come for the Legislature to make it clear that the honorary designation as "emergency replacement governor" is not one which requires the maintenance of any "office" at all.
         Other than such minimal salary for the sole office-holder as may be constitutionally mandated, this budget item should be reduced to "zero."


Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.


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