Las Vegas Sun

May 20, 2019

Currently: 78° — Complete forecast

Want to be governor? Plan to have a deficit plan

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Michael Montandon

Michael Montandon

In the good times, campaign slogans and vague promises are usually enough to get candidates elected. But in the 2010 race for governor, voters can — or at least should — expect more.

At least that’s the hope.

Whether it’s Jim Gibbons, Brian Sandoval, Mike Montandon or Rory Reid who takes the oath in early January 2011, within two weeks of being sworn in he will face a very tangible and serious problem: coming up with a budget that somehow closes a shortfall estimated at $2.5 billion, or nearly 40 percent of this year’s $6.5 billion budget.

Will there be cuts? Tax increases? A combination? Or some sort of fourth way that is being formulated right now?

Whatever it is, savvy voters will want a tangible plan from those vying to be governor.

The election is 10 months away. And it will take months for the current administration to formulate a budget before the 2011 budget cycle.

But the state is seeing tax revenue fall $67 million below the projections made in June, foreshadowing the troubles the state’s next governor will face.

Gibbons has asked agencies to prepare recommendations to cut from 1.4 percent to 10 percent. After soliciting feedback from state workers, he sent out a letter last week in which he argued that K-12 schools and higher education could not be exempted from cuts because they represent 54 percent of the state budget.

With the governor on the record, how do those who want to be in Gibbons’ shoes think he’s doing?

Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, the lone announced Democratic candidate, was critical.

“I don’t think the governor has shown any leadership. What should be done in a time like this is to present a plan to put Nevadans back to work, make the economy better,” he said. “If the only thing he can come up with is that we should cut education to make life more difficult for Nevada’s children, that’s an indictment of his leadership and very different from what I would do.”

When asked what he would do about the current $67 million shortfall, Reid demurred.

“We don’t know what the facts will be in the next 13 months when the next governor proposes a budget,” he said. “What should be done is to create jobs now and improve the economy in the long run.”

Sandoval, the former federal judge and Republican challenger, called Gibbons’ handling of the budget “a prudent approach.”

“The last thing to do in a struggling economy is to raise taxes,” Sandoval said. “You need to look at the spending side. Everything needs to be on the table.”

(Political reality check: Sandoval is running in a Republican primary against Gibbons and Montandon, the former North Las Vegas mayor, and will have to counter the impression that he’s the least conservative of the three.)

Asked specifically about whether education should be exempt from further cuts, Sandoval begged off, saying “I don’t have the access to the numbers that the governor does.”

But of the health and human services budget, which provides Nevadans’ social safety net, Sandoval said: “You can’t expect to make cuts on the people who can’t defend themselves, like the seniors, the disabled and the indigent.”

Montandon did not return calls for comment by deadline.

Gibbons, who fired his campaign manager last week and has yet to name a replacement, could not be reached for comment.

His state spokesman, Dan Burns, said the other candidates for governor would have raised taxes by now.

“In all the rhetoric of running for governor, no one has said they won’t raise taxes,” he said in a sign that Gibbons’ thinks repeating his “no new taxes” mantra will lead him to re-election.

The current fiscal problems are small compared with the task facing whoever is governor in 2011.

Watching how Gibbons handles this problem, and the other candidates’ critiques, will provide a window on how they would handle themselves if elected.

Mike Hillerby, a lobbyist and veteran of former Gov. Kenny Guinn’s administration, said the candidates must outline for voters how they will handle the budget deficit.

“Absolutely, that will be the No. 1 question,” he said. “Every candidate has to be prepared to answer that question.”

But, he threw some cold water on the idea that voters are going to get an early look at a hard and fast shadow budget before next November’s election.

“In reality, they’re going to have to talk in general about their philosophy, how to tackle the problem,” he said. “If they put too much out too early, too specifically, everyone out there in the world has a chance to destroy it.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy