AP Photo/Cathleen Allison
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford continued his relentless public flogging of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget Monday, holding a two-hour budget hearing for the entire Senate in his attempt to convince Republican lawmakers the spending plan is unworkable.
The hearing was part of Horsford’s strategy this session to pummel legislators he considers as possible swing votes on a tax plan with the grim reality of Sandoval’s budget.
For two hours, legislative staff ran down the $1.5 billion in money shuffles Sandoval has proposed — shuffles that rely on borrowing from future revenue, taking money from local governments and shifting funds from other purposes.
Those maneuvers have the potential to hand the next Legislature a $1.1 billion hole, Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, argued.
He then turned to Sandoval’s cuts reading a litany of devastation he believes will occur if the budget passes:
• Dropping Nevada’s average per-pupil education funding below even that of Guam.
• Eliminating funding for hundreds of mentally ill and disabled Nevadans relying on residential support.
• Cutting 174 families from an autism treatment program.
• Chopping a quarter of the higher education budget.
• Cutting staff in parole and probation, closing the Nevada State Prison and Wells Conservation Camp.
At the end of the hearing Horsford reasserted the vow he made at the beginning of the session.
“I am not prepared to support the level of reductions that are proposed,” he said. “We need to put ideological views aside — and that starts by putting everything on the table. As we talk about the cuts we have to make, the reforms we agreed should occur, we also must talk about the revenue needed to responsibly balance this budget.”
But as Horsford insists on a surgical review of the spending cuts, he has yet to put his suggestions for a tax increase on the table for similar inspection.
Horsford has promised a chance for equal scrutiny of a tax plan. As the session nears the halfway mark, however, he is content to let Sandoval’s budget remain the only plan open to attack as he scrambles to convince at least three Republicans that it can’t stand.
In an attempt to disarm Horsford before the hearing, Sandoval released a plan to close a $123 million hole that had opened up in his proposed budget this month. Sandoval spent weeks ignoring Horsford’s demands that he fulfill his constitutional duty to propose a balanced budget.
Although Sandoval put forward a budget fix, Horsford brushed off the proposal, refusing to let Sandoval’s staff present it at the hearing.
Instead, he tried to build the case that the larger problem is that Sandoval’s budget pushes the problem onto future lawmakers.
Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, likened it to a scare tactic.
“If we looked out there far enough we could scare ourselves to death,” McGinness said about handing the 2013 Legislature a $1.1 billion budget hole. “I think we need to work on this current budget, and the governor, with his budget adjustments, seems to have filled up the holes we’re talking about.”
Horsford, still smarting from his failure to persuade lawmakers two years ago to enact a permanent fix, was quick with a reply.
“We do need to look at things more in a multiple-year fashion,” he said. “That’s what has gotten us to where we are: We don’t think about long-term consequences of the decisions we make.”
In addition to the two-hour hearing, Horsford and his staff have helped organize town-hall meetings lambasting the cuts and played a strong role in the rally of more than 1,000 college students at the Legislature.
He’s also meeting individually with Republican senators, during which he presents a detailed breakdown of how the budget cuts would affect their district.
“He’s desperately trying to find people who want to raise taxes,” said state Sen. Barbara Cegavske of Las Vegas, who as the Senate Republicans’ second in command has staked out a staunch opposition to a tax increase.
“Everybody knows the tactic. He can do that, it’s fine.”
But will it work?
Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City, who is on Horsford’s list of possible swing Republicans, described his meeting as pleasant. He acknowledged he has concerns about how the cuts will affect his district and the state as a whole.
But after the rallies, the hearings and the one-on-one meetings has anything persuaded Hardy to back away from Sandoval’s budget?
“I still support the governor’s budget,” he said.