As Nevada becomes increasingly important in the pathway to the presidency, the state plays host for a number of dignitaries from out of state, including three visits from President Donald Trump in fiscal year 2019. His visits, as well as those from Vice President Mike Pence, cost the state six figures in security costs.
SB521, a bill introduced on the Assembly floor on April 30, requests an additional $132,000 to cover costs incurred by the manpower associated with visiting dignitary protection.
“When there’s a visiting dignitary coming in, what happens is if they need protection services, the Secret Service reaches out to the local entities…If they feel the visiting dignitary needs extended protection that is beyond what they can provide, then they reach out to the local agencies to assist with those movements of the visiting `dignitaries,” said Nevada Highway Patrol Colonel John O’Rourke.
The bill initially would have made a supplemental appropriation of $64,664 to the Nevada Highway Patrol for an unexpected overspending of the department’s nearly $18,000 budget for visiting dignitary protection services.
During a Senate Committee on Finance meeting on May 6, O’Rourke shared that the actual cost of this service in FY19 was $110,811. During his introduction of the bill to the Committee, he requested that the original amount be amended and increased to $132,166.
The request was two-pronged: $92,878 was requested to cover the actual cost to date and another $40,000 was requested in contingency of any visits that may occur before the end of the fiscal year 2019 on June 30.
The bill was amended to $113,000, under the advisement of the Senate fiscal staff. This is $19,000 less than what was requested by NHP.
During a work session for the Senate Committee on Finance on May 16, a highway patrol analyst shared that the fiscal staff felt the additional $40,000 could be reduced.
“The agency indicated that this would cover one trip from either the president or vice president, however fiscal staff would note an individual visit from the president or vice president costs approximately $15,000 for a visit in fiscal year 2019 and did not exceed $20,000,” said the analyst.
The Legislature has yet to increase the amount allocated to the NHP’s visiting dignitary protection program despite approving an increasing amount of supplementary funds since 2013.
This year’s request is nearly $79,000 up from the one made during 2017.
“Now that we’ve become a swing state, we obviously get more visiting dignitaries and we’re just like everybody else: we’re trying to guess how many visits we’re going to have and it really is a moving target. We really don’t know what that number is,” O’Rourke said. “There’s just a lot more people coming to the state for the election cycle,” he said.
Democratic Senator Joyce Woodhouse echoed this feeling of unpredictability. “You never really know how many are coming and typically it is the presidential candidates, vice presidential candidates, and once the election is over, for example, we had a number of visits from President Trump and Vice President Pence and it’s just really hard to project how many of those visits are going to come and they don’t want to project too much and take money out of the general fund that can’t be used for something else,” she said.
In an exhibit provided by the NHP during the first Senate Committee hearing, a log shows NHP providing 321.47 hours of regular time and 1,226 hours of overtime for the president and vice president visits in FY2019. Other visiting dignitaries that were provided with protection included Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and the first lady.
O’Rourke also shared that the Department of Public Safety requested approximately $82,000 for fiscal year 2020 and $123,000 for fiscal year 2021. The request for 2020 is $64,000 more than the $17,834 that has been allocated for visiting dignitary protection in the budgets of the last three sessions.
“Best thing we can do is be realistic about what the projection is and put that forward and then we see what we can do, because we do have the opportunity to add more money if we need to. And then at the end of the biennium, if we have put too much money in, then it just reverts to the general fund,” said Woodhouse.
The bill passed the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee on May 27.