Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2017

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Rhetoric vs. silence: Taxes remain core of governor’s race

Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Barbara Buckley

Barbara Buckley

As Republicans running for governor beat each other up, the likely Democrat in the race, Rory Reid, appears to be coasting.

He issued a few white papers early in the campaign. Since then he has largely left controversial talk to others.

Reid’s political allies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Brian Sandoval, his likely Republican opponent in November, forcing the former federal judge to mount a costly defense on two fronts — the left (Reid’s friends) and right (Gov. Jim Gibbons) — to survive June’s primary.

To appeal to primary voters, Sandoval has adopted Gibbons’ “no new taxes” mantra.

Meanwhile, Reid keeps quiet.

But Reid’s silence, in particular, is fueling a growing frustration among the Democratic base and moderate Republicans over what they see as a lack of honest discourse in the governor’s race.

On a recent episode of the TV program “Nevada Newsmakers,” Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, noted that the most pressing issue facing the state is its budget, specifically what she sees as the impossibility of cutting spending to meet an estimated $2.5 billion to $3 billion deficit in Nevada’s $6.4 billion budget.

"None of the gubernatorial candidates are talking about it. All their political advisers say, 'that’s not how to get elected. Say "no new taxes." Pound on the table.’ It would be nice to hear one of them start talking about solutions," she said.

It was a remark clearly pointed at Reid. (It should be noted that Buckley, until she announced she wouldn’t run, was considered a contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and thus a potential Reid rival.)

Still, Reid’s position highlights the fact that there are really two political discussions going on right now.

One, catered to voters, is aired in television commercials and candidate speeches. It focuses on the themes of cutting waste and making state government more efficient.

The other discussion is among insiders — Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals — who have studied the budget and say it’s fantasy to pretend the next governor and Legislature can pass a balanced spending plan without some additional taxes.

In an interview last week, Reid summed up the race this way: “Jim Gibbons is a failed leader. Brian Sandoval is having a debate with himself about how to lead. I’m the man with the plan.”

He said he would propose a budget between now and November’s general election and hoped his Republican opponent would do the same, setting the table for a healthy debate.

So would his budget include taxes?

“I don’t think this is the time for taxes,” he said. Later he added, “I’m not going to respond to those that are saying I’m in favor of this or that. Clearly, I’ve said that taxes are not the answer in a down economy. I believe that. I’m going to present a budget. People will react to it. And we’ll have a debate.”

So why can’t Nevada have an open discussion of taxes, at least not yet?

This is an exceptional political year, with the conservative Tea Party movement energizing the electorate. With an early June primary, no Republican political expert is quite sure who will turn up at the polls.

Meanwhile, Democrats are worried that the anti-incumbent mood will hurt their party come November.

Some believe following a more thoughtful discussion just might happen. And if Reid does release a budget proposal and his opponent follows suit, that might set it off.

“We should be having discussions about what our choices are. Both candidates and the public should have serious and nuanced discussions about priorities of the state,” said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who is running for state Senate. “I don’t think we’re seeing that level of debate right now.”

Tax increases have long been the third rail of Nevada politics, emblazoning any candidate who would suggests such a thing with a scarlet “T.” It has been that way for some time.

So while Buckley scolds the candidates, she is a flawed messenger, having played a similar game.

In the run-up to the 2009 legislative session — when the same insiders knew an attempt to increase taxes was inevitable and planned — Buckley, along with Democratic Senate leader Steven Horsford, refused to admit taxes would even be part of the discussion.

Eventually, the 2009 Legislature passed over $1 billion in additional taxes to balance the budget.

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