Las Vegas Sun

December 9, 2016

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THE LEGISLATURE:

Let Sandoval take heat for budget, Democrats say

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval speaks at the Republicans’ election-night party Tuesday at the Venetian.

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Election 2010 - Republican Party

Sharron Angle arrives with her husband, Ted, to give her concession speech at the Republicans' election-night party early Wednesday at the Venetian. Launch slideshow »
Steven Horsford

Steven Horsford

Democrats in the Nevada Legislature say they’re tired of being the white knights called to “save” K-12, public safety and health and human services from budget cuts — and taking the hits for passing tax increases to preserve those services.

So here’s the message they are sending to Republicans and Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval: It’s your turn to govern.

“It’s incumbent on the governor to present a budget plan, and build support in the Legislature for that plan,” Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said. “He ran for governor, not us.”

In 2009, Gov. Jim Gibbons was a nonentity during budget discussions. He dug in his heels with a pledge not to raise taxes, submitted a budget, which included a 37 percent cut to higher education, and then walked away.

Democrats declared that Gibbons’ budget would not stand. They cobbled together the necessary Republican support, increased taxes and undid many cuts Gibbons proposed.

Now they want the onus on Sandoval, who defeated Democrat Rory Reid while promising not to raise taxes. He must submit a budget to the Legislature in January.

“We will do what we have traditionally done — review the budget that’s presented to us by the governor,” Horsford said. “I think you will see a very concerted effort to work in a bipartisan manner, make state government more efficient and more accountable to voters.”

Some observers said the best scenario for Sandoval would be if Democrats kept their two-thirds majority in the Assembly and Democrats gained the two seats necessary for a tax-approving, veto-proof majority in the Senate — that way, he could propose a budget without taxes, have Democrats raise enough taxes to save the state and shrug his shoulders.

But Assembly Republicans won two seats, and Senate Republicans won one.

“The governor will present a balanced budget without new taxes,” said Heidi Gansert, a former Reno assemblywoman, his transition team leader and presumed chief of staff.

Asked whether the 10 percent cuts that agencies submitted Oct. 15 in anticipation of the need to scale back spending were acceptable, she said Sandoval had not reviewed those cuts “in-depth.” She had no comment on whether they were acceptable.

The Republican caucuses — headed by Mike McGinness of Fallon in the Senate and Pete Goicoechea of Eureka in the Assembly — are sure to take their cue from Sandoval, who won by 12 percentage points.

Sen.-elect Sheila Leslie, a Democrat who was termed out as a Reno assemblywoman, delivered a message similar to Horsford’s.

“It’s their governor, it’s their turn to govern,” she said. “It’s their plan. We’re not going to play the game of ‘meet our demands or we won’t work with you.’ We’re not going to play that game again. We’re willing to work toward compromise solutions.”

For all of last session, legislators saw the magic number as two-thirds in both the Assembly and Senate, the number of seats necessary to increase taxes and override gubernatorial vetoes. Pragmatic Republicans responded by saying they could support a tax increase only if a number of conditions were met: reform public employee retirement, health care and collective bargaining.

In that battle of wills, Democrats clearly blinked, unable or unwilling to draw out the legislative process with lengthy special sessions.

The special-interest groups that populate Carson City when the Legislature is in session were satisfied with the budget that was passed in 2009, including public employee unions and the largest business group, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

But when Horsford was asked what message he had for K-12, higher education and health and human services advocates who believe more money was necessary, he had a bleak message:

“I would encourage those concerned about impacts of the budget to make their positions known to the new governor as he begins to prepare his budget,” Horsford said. “It’s his job to present a budget. It’s the Legislature’s job to review, amend and approve the budget. The Legislature has a role here. Gov. Sandoval has a responsibility to present a blueprint for the state.”

Assembly Democrats struck a softer tone, believing that once settled into office, Sandoval would be open to compromise despite the Republicans’ campaign promises.

“When the governor talks to the budget office, the fiscal guys, it’ll take 20 minutes to realize what the problem is,” new Assembly Speaker John Oceguera said. “When you take $3 billion out, even hard-core Republicans cannot stomach what those cuts are.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, and likely chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, agreed. Asked if the state’s budget could be balanced without more revenue, she said, “I don’t know how we would.”

She said she has looked at the 10 percent budget cuts, which represents a fraction of the expected $3 billion budget hole.

“I know what it means to K-12, I know what it means to seniors and the disabled population,” she said. “Ten percent cuts are devastating to real people. How we get through this only cutting, I’ve yet to have any conversations with anyone who can demonstrate to me how we can.”

Sandoval did not return requests for comment. A senior adviser maintained that he planned to present a balanced budget without additional taxes.

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