Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 | 2 a.m.
CARSON CITY — Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid set high expectations early in his campaign for governor when he released two policy papers in an effort to paint himself as the candidate of substance.
But Reid appeared to stumble in that regard this week as he declined to offer solutions to the state’s $900 million deficit. The Democrat, who promised to offer a budget cutting plan in due time, said he prefers to focus on his long-term vision for Nevada.
“I want to focus on that, rather than guess at ways to solve the budget shortfall as my opponents have done,” Reid said at a Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board meeting Tuesday.
Republican Brian Sandoval, who according to polls is the front-runner in the race for governor, jumped on Reid’s statements. “It’s unbelievable to me that someone running for governor doesn’t have a plan to address what could be biggest economic crisis to hit the state,” Sandoval said Wednesday.
It marked an unusually early salvo in the governor’s race and signaled that candidates will be pressured to take positions on the challenges confronting Nevada.
Reid said Wednesday he wouldn’t let the timing of his plan to address the deficit be dictated by political pressure.
“I will have something to say once the process is complete,” Reid said. “I’m not going to say something that’s not based on a full consideration of facts. Will it be today, tomorrow, or in three weeks? I don’t know. But it will be soon, soon enough.”
Nevada faces two massive budget deficits — one immediate and one that will be dealt with in the first few weeks of the next governor’s term.
The immediate problem is a $900 million gap in the current budget, which would require a 22 percent cut in all state spending to address. Gov. Jim Gibbons, who is seeking re-election, has said he will call a special session of the Legislature next month to balance the budget.
The future problem is more severe. Nevada’s current two-year spending plan was balanced with taxes that will expire in 2011. Federal stimulus money the state used to plug holes in the budget will also dry up. As a result, the future budget deficit has been estimated at $2.5 billion, a daunting test for whoever occupies the Governor’s Mansion in 2011.
Sandoval this month released a short-term plan to cut about $500 million from the state budget, using 4 percent cuts in state employee and teacher pay, program cuts and money from a Clark County School District construction fund.
Reid said Sandoval’s underestimation of the size of the deficit proved why waiting for more information is a prudent approach. Sandoval and Gibbons “have apparently gone to same school of budget management: Shoot from the hip,” Reid said.
Rather than quickly release a plan, Reid said he has been consulting with legislative leaders about various options.
The Legislature will hold public forums on the budget next month, and Gibbons will give a speech on the crisis Feb. 8.
“Once there’s that public input, and we have a full understanding of the facts, I’ll reach a conclusion,” Reid said.
Sandoval said Reid is “avoiding the big issue, the one front and center ... I’m the only candidate willing to address the issue in a specific manner. I talked to the foremost economic experts in the state, businesspeople, elected officials, small-business people.”
Early in the campaign Reid sought to paint himself as a candidate with an understanding of the issues, someone who cares about policy details and isn’t afraid to take a stand. When he formally announced his candidacy in October, he released a 30-page white paper on diversifying the state’s economy.
“The political convention is when you’re running for something, especially early, don’t say anything,” he told the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce at the time. “You can’t argue with nothing.”
He followed that with a challenge to his opponents to comment on his economic plan. “If they don’t say anything, I’ll take it that they agree with me,” Reid said at the time.
Reid said Wednesday that Gibbons and Sandoval have failed to present long-term visions for the state.