Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2024

Sandoval right on counties attempt to get money back: Let the courts decide

I have been amused by the faux mini-controversy stirred up – mostly by those just looking for attention on the right – over recent comments by Gov. Brian Sandoval about urban counties seeking refunds for money swiped by the state.

There is an attempt to create a problem for the governor where none exists by portraying him as inconsistent because he said $600 million in his own budget was at risk but won’t immediately refund money that Clark and Washoe counties are seeking.

Let’s stipulate – as I said from Day One – that Sandoval’s budget was replete with gimmicks, including takings from the locals, designed to spend a billion dollars more than the Economic Forum projected so he did not have to raise taxes. It was transparent – and bad policy.

But when the Clean Water Coalition decision came down from the state Supreme Court shortly before the session was scheduled to end, Sandoval had one of two choices: He could either take $62 million out of his budget – the Clean Water Coalition money – or look at the high court decision as potentially threatening all of his takings. So the governor took the latter position, which was the safer one, and extended expiring taxes to cover the gap.

This angered some conservatives – although the measure easily passed by both houses with GOP support. Reason prevailed over rants.

Sure, Sandoval could have taken the position that the counties and school districts could sue and held fast on his no-new-taxes pledge. But that Norquistian position did not deal with the real world.

Indeed, would-be state Senate GOP Leader Michael Roberson, just after the decision came down, seemed to agree with Sandoval. This from the Las Vegas Sun on May 27th, the day after the decision:

Roberson, a Las Vegas lawyer, said the ruling “appears very broad.” He added, “I have not heard anybody say they can cut $650 million.” Asked if that means backtracking on the GOP pledge not to raise taxes, Roberson said “I’m for a balanced budget.”

Now, of course, the ambitious Roberson has sipped some restorative tea, getting his mind right so he can now say he opposes the decision and lead the conservative caucus. Convenient.

And here’s where the stirred-up controversy comes in.

My colleague Anjeanette Damon broke the story on her program, “To the Point,” a couple of weeks ago. The governor told Damon he was going the legal route to resolve whether the urban counties deserved the $123 million they were seeking. He argued – correctly – that it is not his job to interpret each case raised by the Clean Water Coalition decision as opposed to the political/financial calculation he made during the session.

To The Point

The difference really is simple: Sandoval made his decision at a crisis point of a legislative session. The counties, understandably, are looking to get refunds for money taken before Sandoval was in office. There is no urgency now for the governor – that money is not part of any pending budget. Let the courts decide.

The issue was revived this week when the Review-Journal’s Ben Spillman asked the governor about it and Sandoval rightly pointed out, “There may be other legal issues that have an effect on whether those cases are viable.”

RJ

That prompted more silly sniping. But Sandoval was correct when he made the decision in May and he is right now, too. The governor did not interpret the high court decision; he took the safe course. Now, it’s up to the courts to actually rule on individual requests for money from the locals.

Governors and Legislatures long before Sandoval became governor have caused this problem with their reckless and cowardly pilfering practices. But to sanction going back in time and refunding money – rather than letting the legal process play out – would be irresponsible.

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