Las Vegas Sun

July 24, 2017

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The ignorance or dishonesty of Gibbons’ State of the State

“Nevada government should meet the needs of the people; people should not meet the needs of Nevada government.”

— Gov. Jim Gibbons, State of the State, 1/15/09

It would appear that the Gibbonsites are most proud of this line from his serpentine speech, which began with the ridiculous (drug-sniffing dogs, a fire commission), detoured before having any chance to reach the sublime (a thoughtful, serious philosophy) through no-tax doggerel and conservative shibboleths, and concluded with his “One Nevada” puerility.

Forget One Nevada. It is clear after the governor’s State of the State that, despite what his critics have averred, he does have a vision. It can be summed up in four words: Backwater to the Future.

Even before Gibbons took a sledgehammer to the foundation of the higher education system and locked the state in the national lower education cellar for years to come, the state never adequately met the needs of its people, and government here is far from bloated.

I am now more convinced that Gibbons has no idea what he is talking about. I assert this not because of his rote recitation of cliches for an hour Thursday evening, nor his abdication of any discussion of budget priorities in the run-up to his address, nor the abject fear I saw in his staffers as they closed in on him, like a mother trying to rescue a cub threatened by jackals, to whisk him away after only a few questions after the speech.

I assert this because his rhetoric is so at odds with the information embedded in his own administration’s budget documents. For instance, on Pages 18-19 of the “Executive Budget in Brief,” two charts are provided.

The first shows the number of state employees per 10,000 residents. Nevada finishes 46th, with 111. So his proposal is to take what obviously is a group of overworked employees and cut their pay.

This is Nevada government meeting the needs of the people? No, this is a Backwater to the Future.

On the next page is a chart showing state and local government employee compensation as a share of total gross state product. Here Nevada is tied for 49th at 6.5 percent. So his claim that he had nowhere else to go but state worker pay when considering how to balance the budget is contradicted by the numbers his administration disseminated.

This is Nevada government meeting the needs of the people? No, this is a Backwater to the Future.

So Gibbons either is lying or he is ignorant. And frankly, it doesn’t matter which because the result is the same.

Many governors before Gibbons have exaggerated and bloviated in their States of the State. But rarely have they dissembled and omitted as Gibbons did Thursday.

Some of the rhetoric was general and disingenuous: “As governor, I must first and foremost look at the economic situation of our people to ensure that our state government does not ‘pile on’ and make our citizens’ problems worse.”

By “citizens,” I assume he means everyone who is not employed by the state, a public school or the higher ed system and anyone who uses those services.

In other parts of the speech, Gibbons was specifically misleading. “We have maintained Nevada Check Up so low-income children can receive the health care they need and deserve.”

Considering that Gibbons’ budget caps the program at 25,000 — and the waiting list would already put the total over that ceiling and only about half the eligible kids are enrolled now — once again he either doesn’t know the truth or doesn’t care. And once again, the answer is irrelevant, and the vision is clear: Backwater to the Future.

The governor, in his speech, either didn’t know the correct figures or ignored them when he declared that his budget “is $2.2 billion smaller than the one we submitted just two years ago.”

That’s not even close. Two years ago, the budget was $6. 8 billion. Gibbons’ budget is $6.1 billion. He didn’t even hew to the Economic Forum estimates, buffing his budget by a half-billion dollars with at least three de facto tax increases — appropriating room taxes, stealing from the state’s major counties and taxing markers even if they are not collected in a timely way.

The budget does not meet the needs of the people; it meets the political needs of one person: Jim Gibbons. It’s a simple, but potent, vision for Nevada from a man who doesn’t even know or care how the state operates or what is in his own budget:

Backwater to the Future.

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