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Politics:

Governor candidate Brian Sandoval floats budget plan

Updated Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 | 4:56 p.m.

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Brian Sandoval

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval released a budget-cutting plan today that would reduce state employee and teacher pay by 4 percent, privatize some state services and tap a Clark County School District building fund to pay for operating costs.

The plan marks Sandoval’s first policy offering, laying out how he would deal with the state’s budget and, at the same time, answering criticism from Gov. Jim Gibbons’ campaign that he was offering no ideas.

“As a candidate for governor, I’ve been asked several times what my strategy would be in what some have described as the greatest financial problem in the history of the state,” Sandoval said in an interview.

The plan sends signals to conservative Republican primary voters – dismissing higher taxes in favor of cuts to public employees and privatization.

A news release accompanying the announcement states that one of Sandoval’s core economic principles is “Raising taxes is irresponsible.”

During the last legislative session, state workers took a 4.6 percent cut in pay through furloughs. Sandoval, who proposes further cuts, said in an interview, “I know public employees have made tremendous sacrifices. These choices are all difficult, all painful choices. I understand that.”

The next governor will enter office in January 2011 and within weeks will have to present a budget that somehow closes an anticipated $2.5 billion, 40 percent, gap.

Before then, though, Gibbons and lawmakers are dealing with a shortfall in the current budget cycle between taxes collected and what it spends. Year to date, that number is about $70 million. But the Gibbons’ administration said today that it estimates it will grow to $300 million to $450 million by June 2011.

Sandoval took a swipe — albeit mild and a bit indirect — at Gibbons for including a line of credit in the budget he submitted to the Legislature.

“I do not support deficit spending,” Sandoval said in an interview. “I don't think when you have a budget problem, it helps when you're borrowing more money.”

Using numbers from Las Vegas financial firm Applied Analysis, Sandoval said the deficit is projected to be between $200 million and $500 million for the current biennium.

Among Sandoval’s proposals:

-- 4 percent salary reduction, including asking teachers to reopen their contracts so they too can take a pay cut. Most state workers (although not teachers) are making 4.6 percent less through a one-day-a-month furlough.

-- Cut public employee health benefits. Implement the recommendations to reform the Public Employee Benefit Program (PEBP) that Gov. Jim Gibbons’ Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE) came up with.

-- Privatize state services, like prison medical services, building and grounds maintenance and the state motor pool.

-- Eliminate the class-size reduction fund for Clark County School District, but allow the school district to access a fund for school construction for operating costs.

Mike Trask, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, compared Sandoval’s plan to Gibbons’ plan, which includes eliminating the class-size reduction money but not returning it all. “It looks like Jim Gibbons forgot to lock his office door, because it appears his opponent is ripping off his idea,” Trask said.

While Reid has released some policy white papers on the economy and ethics, he has not issued a detailed plan like Sandoval’s. Trask said, “We have promised to release detailed plans.”

Gibbons' staff criticized Sandoval's plan today, saying the ideas had already been looked at by the governor and many of them overstated the possible savings or simply could not be done.

In a statement relayed by his staff, Gibbons said, "Any positive aspect of his plan has already been introduced or implement under my leadership."

Lynn Hettrick, Gibbons deputy chief of staff, said that because some state workers have not been furloughed, some employees would be taking an 8.6 percent cut in pay while others are taking a 4 percent cut in pay. "It's a fairness issue," he said.

Also, Hettrick said, there are questions about whether the state can cut teacher salaries or take money from education because of requirements in the federal stimulus plan.

Other ideas, such as privatizing the state motor pool and mail system, have been dismissed because they wouldn't save the state any money, he said.

"The governor has looked at all these ideas," said Gibbons' chief of staff, Robin Reedy.

Reedy also criticized other ideas, such as cutting funding for narcotics control and fire marshals.

The size of the current budget deficit won’t be known until January 22, when a group of business leaders will convene and make new revenue projections.

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