Las Vegas Sun

March 3, 2024

Damon Political Report

First public budget debate before full Assembly ends in predictable stalemate

John Oceguera

John Oceguera

Pete Goicoechea

Pete Goicoechea

If Assembly Democrats thought they could break a stubborn stalemate that had rendered private budget negotiations ineffective by dragging the debate into a public hearing, they were wrong.

An emotional and contentious six-hour hearing before the full Assembly on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from education concluded just before midnight right where it began: Republicans and Democrats at loggerheads over the budget.

“This is not something we’re going to resolve in the next 35 minutes with a warm and fuzzy motion,” Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said in response to a last-ditch request by Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, for a motion asking each lawmaker to display a willingness to compromise. “We’ve got some work to do.”

With that, Democratic leaders gaveled the hearing to a close, failing in their effort to win Republican concessions that Sandoval’s education cuts are unacceptable.

Instead, the 16-member minority steadfastly voted to uphold Sandoval’s recommended budget, including cuts that school district officials testified would cripple education, even as Democrats worked to browbeat them with accusations of blindly following the governor.

The night vacillated between Democrats appearing to flat out beg Republicans to meet them halfway on the budget and Republicans appearing obstinate in their refusal to even consider it.

“I ask you and I beg of you to think about the people you serve,” Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, said. “Tell them we worked together to come up with a compromise to do what we thought was best...”

In the end, it was unclear who scored more political points: Republicans, by proving their powerful unity behind the governor, or Democrats, by showing a willingness to compromise.

Republican lawmakers did their own fair share of browbeating, accusing Democrats of putting on a disingenuous show for the public.

“The compromise and what you want is convenient when we have a forum and you try to paint these guys as hating kids,” Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson, said. “This is a farce.”

Republicans have accused Democrats of refusing to come to the table to debate reform measures on their priorities — an accusation that is flat wrong, according to Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

“Let’s name the bills you wish to have available,” Oceguera replied to Sherwood. “I believe that the construction defect bill, I have that bill, it is still alive. A (public employee retirement) reform bill, it’s still alive. Prevailing wage, we have that bill. Still alive. Tell me your other reforms. I think I answered all these questions.”

The Senate is scheduled to hold a similar hearing at 10 a.m. today.

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