Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Rory Reid news conference
Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid opened the year in politics Monday with a five-point plan to solve Clark County’s fiscal troubles and put government and public services on a path to long-term stability.
The plan, which takes a hard line on public employee unions and the scandal-ridden University Medical Center, also shores up political vulnerabilities that could imperil the Democrat’s run for governor.
Monday’s press conference, staged in the commission chambers, was the latest move by Reid to blunt the criticisms his Republican rivals are already leveling.
Last month, when Reid attacked Gov. Jim Gibbons, saying the governor’s reputation was costing the state new business, Gibbons previewed the likely line of Republican volley. “Is Commissioner Reid going to run the state like how UMC is run?” Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns asked. “If he does, this state will be bankrupt like California in short order.”
UMC, the county’s only public hospital, lost $70 million last fiscal year and has been the scene of several scandals, including, most recently, the systematic leak of private patient information of car accident victims, allegedly to personal injury lawyers looking for clients. On Monday, Reid called for a comprehensive audit of UMC’s quality of care and advocated transferring the hospital to a nonprofit entity.
The county itself faces a deficit of up to $126 million in the coming fiscal year, on top of a $70 million shortfall this year.
For candidate Reid, the larger challenge is building a case for voters that his handling of the county’s troubles shows he would be capable of managing the state’s shrinking budget as governor.
In addition to curbing costs at UMC and in public employee contracts, Reid’s plan calls for restructuring county departments, adopting cost-saving measures recommended by a citizens advisory committee and launching ready-to-go public works projects.
“The politically expedient thing to do would be to bide my time, sit in that chair for a few more months and hope this didn’t fester on my watch,” he told the assembled media. “I just don’t think that’s the responsible thing to do. I got elected to this job and I want to do it right and I want to do it well. I want to finish the job I was elected to do.”
Reid also faces public perception that the County Commission is beholden to special interests. For many, that image was cast in stone in 2006, when four former commissioners were convicted of accepting bribes from a strip club owner. Last month Reid acknowledged the baggage that comes with a seat on the commission when he unveiled an ethics-reform package aimed at closing loopholes in state law and stiffening penalties for unethical behavior.
Political observers pointed to the timing of Monday’s press conference, coming on the heels of publicity over Las Vegas government’s plan to shore up its finances by cutting salaries across the board. The city is considering 8 percent cuts for all employees in each of the next two years, and officials have talked about taking drastic measures such as closing fire stations to stem high firefighter costs.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is mulling a run for governor as an independent, quickly attacked union criticism of potential cuts as “scare tactics.”
Politically, Reid has room to maneuver. He’s the sole declared Democrat in the governor’s race, so he won’t have to spend much time wooing traditional Democratic allies, including labor.
“It’s significant that he’s willing to take on some Democratic sacred cows,” said David Damore, a political scientist at the UNLV. “It shows he’s trying to chart his own course.”
The battle with the unions could also play well with Republican and independent voters, he said.
More than a year ago, Reid and county staff asked members of the county firefighters union to consider salary concessions to help alleviate the county’s shortfall. (The average salary and benefits for the county’s 700 firefighters have ballooned to just under $200,000 per year.)
County administrators and commissioners said the union’s offer amounted to no concession at all.
While remaining diplomatic in public, Reid has privately expressed anger over the union’s lack of cooperation.
On Monday, Reid stressed the importance of adopting the recommendations of the Committee on Community Priorities, an advisory committee he created. The panel, which called firefighters’ compensation “outrageous” in its report, gives Reid additional cover as he uses the county pulpit to his political advantage.
“Gov. Gibbons is using the governor’s office to burnish his conservative bona fides,” Damore said. “Reid wants to use his platform in the same way.
“He can dust off his credentials, talk about reforming Clark County and say he’ll do the same thing at the state level. Otherwise, he doesn’t have much to hang his hat on, other than he hasn’t gotten in trouble.”