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August 4, 2015

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ANALYSIS:

Expect Sandoval to flex his newfound political capital on his anti-tax pledge

Lawmakers are less apt in anti-government age to buck the popular one

Image

Justin M. Bowen

Brian Sandoval enters the Red Rock Resort ballroom holding his daughter Madeline’s hand after it was announced he defeated Rory Reid for governor Tuesday.

If passing a state budget were just about counting yeas and nays, Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval’s opposition to taxes wouldn’t be a factor in the 2011 Legislature. After all, it takes support from two-thirds of lawmakers to pass a tax hike — the same number it takes to override a governor’s veto.

But Sandoval will be a key player in getting the upcoming budget passed because of his landslide victory last week and reservoir of political capital that brought him.

Sandoval’s key position in the budget process will be a shift from the current administration, in which Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons took a laissez faire approach. Gibbons proposed a budget, and then essentially walked away, not weighing in until lawmakers passed a bill and sent it his direction.

With Sandoval assuming office after campaigning on a no-new-taxes pledge, some have been tempted to believe the same logic that applied during the Gibbons years would apply in the 2011 Legislative session.

“The governor is irrelevant in this process,” Danny Thompson, executive director of the AFL-CIO, told the Associated Press in September, when Sandoval and Democrat Rory Reid were promising not to raise taxes.

Legislators, Thompson said, “are the people who will make these decisions.”

Sandoval, however, is no Gibbons. And 2011 is not 2009.

After all, the recent election brought a national, if not statewide, conservative wave that makes taxes and government spending even more radioactive.

Sandoval defeated Reid by 11 points and garnered the most votes of any Nevada candidate in a contested race this year. The upshot is political capital that Sandoval’s aides say he will use to advocate for his spending plan.

That is bad news for those who counted on running an end around Sandoval’s no-new-tax pledge by assembling the necessary votes in the Legislature — advocates of K-12, higher education, social services and cultural affairs, for example.

Moderate Republicans — the few left — will be loath to oppose a popular governor, particularly when the electorate seems to be feeling its anti-government mojo. Some conservative Democrats will not be automatic votes to increase spending, especially after a well-funded incumbent, Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, was handily defeated by a Republican who signed an anti-tax pledge.

Add to the mix new leadership for both Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly and for Senate Republicans and 22 freshman lawmakers, many of whom will be trying to find someone to follow.

While Gibbons wasn’t present during the 2009 session, Sandoval appears to be taking the opposite approach. His team includes advisers of former Gov. Kenny Guinn, who took an active role when legislatures were in session.

Sandoval will be a forceful advocate for his budget, which won’t increase taxes, his aides said.

On Tuesday, after a 1 1/2-hour meeting with state budget Director Andrew Clinger, Sandoval stood by his campaign promise.

“The numbers look very good in terms of what can be done,” Sandoval said. He avoided specifics about his approach.

“I’m not going to stick with certain numbers,” he said. “But as I said candidly throughout the campaign, there are going to be reductions.”

Republicans gained a seat in the Nevada Senate in the election, cutting into Democrats’ upper house majority, and two seats in the Assembly, breaking Democrats’ two-thirds advantage.

Bill Raggio

Bill Raggio

Republican senators also ousted longtime Senate leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, in part for his endorsement of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but also because he was perceived as soft on taxes. Raggio has publicly said that he believes extending the 2009 taxes, scheduled to sunset in June, would be necessary to balance the budget.

But Raggio has downplayed speculation that he and other Republican senators could break off from the majority to support a tax increase.

Raggio called Sandoval “the most relevant” when it comes to the budget. “He’s the new governor. He comes in without any political baggage. He has a clear opportunity to lead,” he said.

“The makeup now, of both Republican caucuses, is pretty well committed to support this governor,” he said. “Their votes are needed to override a veto. I don’t think there’s a mind-set, in the present makeup of caucuses, to even think about overriding a veto.”

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, who unsuccessfully challenged Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, for the leadership of the Republican caucus, said his colleagues will look to Sandoval for leadership.

“The caucus will most likely take its cue from the governor-elect,” Hambrick said. “We’re there to support the governor.”

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