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October 20, 2017

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Where Gibbons, Buckley and Raggio stand, as of today

Upheaval in the capital last Friday as the state’s Economic Forum crunched some more ugly numbers and the governor decided to delay a special session until this Friday.

The state will need to find another $250 million in cuts, and by the end of the weekend, that number could have risen. Meanwhile the governor, in a statement, said he wanted to give more time to legislative leaders to work out a compromise.

So where does that leave the major players as they jockey over the future of Nevada’s budget?

Gov. Jim Gibbons

At stake could be the future of his administration. In the short term, his delay of the special session lent credence to legislators’ cries that his sudden announcement didn’t give staff enough time to prepare.

Yet, the table is still set for the special session that could refocus his 18-month, troubled tenure.

So far, it has changed the subject from his divorce and text messaging propensity.

But to truly complete the makeover into gubernatorial fiscal conservative budget fighter, he needs to come up with a plan. As of Friday evening, he hadn’t done that.

That’s a lot of time for his staff to have to repeat the mantra, “everything is on the table.”

Yet overall, the chance is still there for him to win. His staff had the right numbers. Legislators who complained about the executive staff’s doom and gloom were wrong. As the outlook for the state gets worse, it bolsters his argument that the legislature needs to meet in a special session.

Still, his delay of the special session left him open to slings, namely that he called the special session hastily and without any real plan.

But better to delay it than to have squabbling legislators sitting on their hands in Carson City for a week (at a cost of about $300,000) because he didn’t give them enough time to work on a solution.

One note: His last formal comments came in a news briefing June 12, after he told legislative leaders there wouldn’t be a need for the special session and a delay in the cost of living increase. Since then, he’s called the special session, there has been a fight over budget numbers, the Economic Forum met and he delayed the special session.

Except for brief comments after a solar powered car was dedicated in Las Vegas — comments in which he called his critics “morons” — he hasn’t addressed the media about the special session. In fact, he was hardly in his Carson City office at all last week.

At a certain point, if the governor wants to sell the idea he is engaged as governor, he’ll have to answer questions about being governor.

Speaker Barbara Buckley

She is in perhaps the toughest position here. After a week of questioning a need for a special session, the Economic Forum (including the appointment she made to the five-member body) sided with the executive staff’s gloomier numbers over the legislative staff’s figures. Now, instead of trying to come up with a $100 million solution, she needs to come up with a $250 million solution.

She has always maintained a tightrope between not increasing taxes — which could hurt her gubernatorial chances in 2010 — and having to slash budgets further. The online left in Nevada will only get more vocal as the cuts creep up if she doesn’t propose an alternative.

At the same time, this is a huge opportunity for her to make a statewide name for herself. If she can help negotiate a bipartisan solution with Sen. Bill Raggio, she could come out a winner, or at least with minimal damage.

Watch Thursday’s meeting of the Interim Finance Committee, made up of legislators from both houses. That body can approve cuts. And it will be a test to see if she and Raggio can come up with a compromise.

Sen. Bill Raggio

The Republican lion went out on a limb Friday, lending his name and credibility to the governor’s call for a special session. A day earlier he had sat next to the governor in a news conference and said he was against it.

Those with knowledge of conversations said it was Raggio who asked Gibbons on Friday to hold off on the special session, in order to get a compromise put out there.

Raggio’s proposal to cut cost-of-living increases for teachers and state workers was met with resistance from his own caucus. But that was when legislators were using more modest projections that led many to believe cuts could be made without laying off workers or cutting into cost-of-living increases.

With new numbers, can Raggio persuade his caucus?

And remember, he’s fighting for one more term in the primary against Sharron Angle, the ultraconservative former assemblywoman. His proposal to delay the COLAs and keep cutting spending is Republican red meat. But what about his reputation as a throwback to bipartisan congeniality?

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