Debate Over State Budget ‘End Game’ Suggests Compromise Far Off

CARSON CITY – Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, wanted honesty about the Legislature’s budget “end game,” and he got it.

At a legislative town hall featuring 21 lobbyists, lawmakers and business leaders, the candid comments from panelists seemed to suggest a looming budget compromise is a fool’s hope.

“You’re not going to get a tax increase through this Senate,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, one of the panelists. “You’re simply not going to get it.”

He clashed again with AFL-CIO lobbyist and co-panelist Danny Thompson. Now both men have said they are “offended” by what the other has said about collective bargaining. Roberson’s bill to change collective bargaining law died in committee last week.

Hickey gave each panelist about five minutes to speak, which was enough time for each panelist to repeat a few key talking points.

“It seemed business as usual,” said Jim Cooley, lobbyist for the Nevada Libertarian Party. “It was basically, ‘this is my pitch.’”

Each speaker brought his or her own expertise to the discussion. But the debate was framed by the needs and wants of each participant.

Washoe County Superintendent Heath Morrison called for education reforms paired with more funding than Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed in his general fund budget.

“We must improve education,” Morrison said. “Only by providing an educated workforce are businesses going to want to come to Nevada and stay in Nevada.”

Chuck Muth, conservative activist for Citizen Outreach, maintained his firm stance against new taxes.

“It is no longer sufficient to say that the government needs to do more with less,” Muth said. “It is time for us to start saying that the government needs to do less with less.”

Heidi Gansert, Sandoval’s chief of staff, did her best to put a new spin on the talking points representatives from the governor’s office have used to defend the budget since its January release.

“We recognize that there are some very difficult cuts,” Gansert said. “It’s time that we have to do that.”

Hickey organized the town hall meeting to bring a diverse crowd to one place to debate, as the title of the forum suggested, “the recession, revenues and Nevada’s recovery.” He said earlier that he wanted Nevada’s political players to put their “cards on the table.”

At least one lobbyist in the audience said he was discouraged that the cards the players revealed today were the same hands they were holding two months ago.

“I think it shows how firm both sides are in their positions, which means we probably are not playing for an end game in that first week of June,” said Paul Enos, a lobbyist for the Nevada Motor Transport Association.

Former Republican Sen. Randolph Townsend spoke at the event and channeled his colleague, former Republican Sen. Bill Raggio, in calling for more respect in the legislative debate.

“Deal only with the issue in front of you,” he said. “Don’t tie the issue to the person … the day you make it personal you lose … It’s a lot harder to become vitriolic when it’s somebody you know.”

Members of the public also joined by watching online or attending the town hall at the Legislature. Robert Stransbury, 64, is a retired teacher and Carson City resident who listened to the debate from the Legislature.

“I took away that there’s some very strong opinions on opposing sides,” he said. “I hope that they can agree and come together and get a budget.”

To that end, Townsend had some advice for the current legislators struggling to do more than cobble together a budget at the last minute.

“Once in awhile you have to walk out of the [legislative] building, breathe the clean air and try to get a different perspective, and right now that is what the building needs,” he said.

The 120-day legislative session is scheduled to end during the first week of June.


  • Mr. W

    There is hope! And I don’t care who is offended either!

  • Anonymous

    Government effiecies are getting harder to find. It really is getting down to either more revenue is necessary to provide service or less service can be provided with the money available. The shell games being played with money in government are running out. Balancing the budget on the back of state workers is wrong too. So also is stealing from pension funds that were promised in good faith years ago to people who came to work for the state.

    We are all citizens of the state and we should all contribute equally to the cause. “Fair” taxes such as sales tax entitle you to some control as to what you pay for in that if you don’t need something then you don’t by it an pay taxes but at the same time you need to understand that you won’t be getting service either. Nor should the state adopt the model of the airline industry with its ‘you can fly for this, except on Tuesdays and of course your luggage will have to pay full fare too’ approach. All the hidd been fees and things just create more complexity and level of effort that in the end costs the state more.

    The state should also be careful about cutting wages. Lower level state employees who might be getting paid out of Federally funded programs might suddenly be eligible for forms of public assistance that are not federally funded. Several state agencies are or have programs that fund many staff. Blanket across the board cuts in order to be fair could actually cost the state money. Then there is the long term effect. The state will lose its better employees when the economy gets better because wages and benefits will not rebound as fast in the public sector as in the private. In the long run the state will become more of a training ground for private industry jobs and lose the skilled core personnel necessary to perform its core mission of providing basic infrastruture programs for all the citizens.

    Something has got to give. But lets look at the fact that about 55% of the budget in this state is for education and we have the worst (or nearly so depding on who’s data you look at) educational program in the nation. I don’t think throwing good money after bad is a good idea just because it looks good politically. Serious education reform with a performanced based pay scale should be implimented. Expenditures for facilities and other core education needs should be examined closely and adjusted to meet fiscal realities. Sports coaches or speciality academic staff should be paid a wage comencerate with other education staff. I have to ask but why does the UNR football coach and the head of the medical school need to make more money by several times than the govenor of the state who is responsible for so much more?

    This is not an issue about politics and what gets the legislature or govenor re-elected. This should be about meeting the responsibility of those jobs under the laws of the state to provide the basic infrastructre to the people of Nevada to pursue life liberty and happiness.

  • deacon427

    BrianW48 has some good points, but some of the othera are questionable. There is educational reform needed, but putting in a performance based system will be difficult. The Governor is lost on this one, because putting things in the hand of administrators is so wrong I don’t know where to start. Stop balancing the budget on the backs of state employees and start making the difficult decisions to provide less services because you have lkess money. Mr Muith is an idiot, but I think everyone already knew that much. The man does not have a sound notion in his brain. He simply needs to shut up and go away because he is more lost than the Governor and that is hard to do, because the Gov is clueless with a capital C. You want to cut money from the overall education system? I say yes as long as you don’t decrease teacher pay. See people are assuming that teachers are not doing their job, and you know what ass-u-me does for you. Let teachers teach. Get parents more involved with their students. Schools are not suppose to do discipline for you. Nor are they suppose to give your child self-esteem. They are suppose to teach the basics of life skills needed in a variety of subjects. Are you going to say all teachers are bad because one or two maybe be sliding along doing just enough to get by?? Sorry, but that is just plain dumb! Brian is right everyone needs to come to the table to pay their fair share of the tab of what is needed to get Nevada to the top of the heap, a state where businesses want to come to thrive. Businesses need an educated workforce and right now they won’t find it in Nevada and if the Gov has his way they will not find it anytime in the foreseeable future. Gov you don’t have a real plan with real solutions, admit it. It is smoke and mirrors and just a plain old shell game, the same shell game that has been played for the last upteen years. Make the tax system fair and equitable. Get Gaming and Mining to the table. Eliminate some of the idiotic exemptions from sales and use tax. Eliminate some or all of the deductions from the mining tax. Get gaming to pay a point ot two more. This is not brain surgery, but Mr. Muth wants to that way because he wants us to discard are brains and just mindlessly cut, cut, cut. To make things work you will need a combination of reform and new revenue streams. Ginsert and Robinson need to tell me where they got their education because I do not want my kids going to that school ever! And if it was here I want to see the diplomas because I think you might have forged them.