Cathleen Allison / Associated Press
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Gov. Brian Sandoval’s announcement Tuesday that he would propose another extension of temporary tax increases to fund education put him on a trajectory toward the political center.
The move, Sandoval reasoned, will prevent deeper cuts to education and, he hopes, fend off calls for a tax increase when lawmakers meet again next year.
His decision is a reversal from the position on which he campaigned two years ago but is less surprising given his reputation as a moderate Republican open to compromise.
More surprising is the sudden reversal of Republicans such as incoming GOP Senate leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who voted against extending the tax increase last year and had been a consistent — sometimes strident — opponent of tax increases.
Roberson, however, immediately voiced support for Sandoval’s proposal on Tuesday.
“Gov. Sandoval has outlined a prudent and fiscally responsible preliminary budget framework,” Roberson said in a written statement. “I am grateful for his tremendous leadership. I will stand with him and support him.”
Roberson isn’t the only Republican who voted against the tax increase extension last year to change his tune. State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said last week on the TV show “To the Point” that he would no longer support continued cuts to education, rejecting a hard-line approach against raising taxes.
“That was an anomalous session and going forward, we simply can’t continue to cut the way we did last session. We just can’t do it,” Brower said.
The centrist approach from some Republican leaders comes as the party fights to take control of the state Senate and signals that the GOP believes it has a better shot of accomplishing that by rejecting the more strident anti-tax position that has opened a rift in the party.
Indeed, Sandoval’s announcement immediately drew reproach from conservative activists.
“Taxpayers lose again with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s decision to propose extending the so-called ‘sunset’ taxes,” said Geoffrey Lawrence from the conservative think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute. “This demonstrates, once again, the danger behind the concept of a ‘temporary’ tax increase. Once bureaucracy becomes dependent on that additional revenue to sustain itself, the tax increase rarely goes away.”
Ironically, it also came the same day Grover Norquist, a leading national anti-tax activist, referred to Sandoval as a “poster child for why a written tax pledge is important” because of Sandoval’s decision last year to reverse his position against the sunset taxes.
“Sandoval said he wouldn’t raise taxes but did,” Norquist said.
Two years ago, several Republicans, including Roberson, won Senate seats by digging in against taxes and signing Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. This year, however, the Republican caucus has recruited candidates with a more centrist view on taxes.
“We are vulnerable to being cast as the party who wants to decimate education, isn’t reasonable and doesn’t want to do this or that,” said one Republican lawmaker. “This can take some of the wind out of those sails.”
State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who supported the tax increase extension last year, said the caucus isn’t intent on rejecting “any candidates of a certain political stripe.”
“But we want to field candidates who can win in these key districts,” he said, noting that most of them have a slight Democratic advantage.
Sandoval’s move also appears aimed at heading off both continual calls by Democrats for a tax increase and any potential support for ballot measures seeking a tax increase.
In his statement proposing an extension of the 2009 tax increases, Sandoval was clear that he would not be seeking any another tax increase to fund services when he hands his budget to lawmakers next year.
“Our economy is just trying to recover,” Sandoval’s Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert said. “If we extend the sunsets, no taxpayer will be paying more than when Gov. Sandoval took office. It’s prudent to look at extending the sunsets, but raising taxes could hurt the economy.”
Extending the temporary tax increases would give Sandoval another $600 million for education and other services.
But Democrats decried Sandoval’s decision to forgo a debate on long-term fixes to the state’s tax structure, which is overly reliant on volatile revenue from the gaming and tourism industries.
“Does it make sense to put everything off for another two years instead of working together to find a long-term solution?” Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said. “There are different ways to look at revenue that could be revenue-neutral but in the long run would provide what we need for education. We just need to look at those issues.”
As Democrats have been wont to do until the final days of a legislative session, Denis stopped short of calling for a tax increase.