Republican Lawmakers Give Mixed Reviews on Reforms, Budget Deal

CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval has enough Republican votes to pass the budget deal announced in this final week of the Legislature, but that doesn’t mean all conservative lawmakers are happy about it.

Some Republicans will support the governor and vote in favor of the fiscal compromise consisting of hard-won reform bills and the extension of some taxes that were set to expire. Many others will likely cast “no” votes in a principled protest against tax extensions.

Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, R-Mesquite, said he thinks fellow Republicans are agreeing to fewer reforms than he would have liked to see passed.

“We had five good reforms we wanted. We didn’t get all of them,” said Hardy.

“The Democrats didn’t get their $1.2B tax package, though, and we’re really happy about that,” he added.

Sandoval and leaders in the Democrat-controlled Legislature agreed to a $6.2 billion general fund budget plan that reduces state government spending over the last biennium and was balanced with about $620 million in taxes that were set to expire June 30.

In exchange for Republicans agreeing to extend the taxes, Democrats agreed to a number of reforms to existing statutes covering education, collective bargaining and public employee benefits.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said he had hoped for more depth in terms of reforms but will support the governor in what he acknowledged was a difficult decision.

Hambrick said he understands the complaints of vocal conservative critics who oppose the deal but that he will not publicly criticize members of his caucus for their votes.

“Within the caucus, I was one that did not vote in favor of the deal, but I am not going sit here and criticize those who did,” said Hambrick.

“We each have to consider our conscience and our constituency – and I made certain campaign promises that I felt I needed to keep – but there were other considerations for other people,” he said.

Hambrick said he was hoping the governor might try to hold out a little longer and not go with the extension of the majority of taxes set to sunset June 30.

“But I haven’t walked a mile in his shoes, either,” he said.

“He’s got a huge responsibility, and I respect him for making that decision although I disagree with it. He is a man of high integrity and I am sure this was extremely difficult for him,” he added.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, agrees that the governor did the right thing by negotiating a deal based in part on concerns about possible implications of the recent Supreme Court decision involving the state grabbing or borrowing money from local entities to balance its budget.

“We were all very concerned that we were taking money from the bond accounts in Washoe and Clark counties, so we were frankly relieved that that issue was taken off the table,” said Hansen.

“The modified business tax change is really good as well,” added Hansen.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said he supports the extension of some of the taxes set to expire but is disappointed that reforms to prevailing wage policy did not make it into the final deal.

“Prevailing wage was something that was on the reform table that was a big issue, and that is going to come back next session because that is an area in which we can save a lot of tax dollars,” said Hickey.

“I think in consideration of the recent Supreme Court decision, extending the sunsets was the wise and prudent way to go, so I am not disappointed in that,” he said.

“I am also happy that the small business employee tax has been eliminated for over 70 percent of Nevada businesses,” said Hickey, referring to the breaks created for the modified business tax.

Not all Republicans support the extension of the taxes scheduled to sunset, though.

Sen. Mike Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said he is supportive of the governor but disagrees with his position on the budget.

“I cannot support this deal. I saw and still see this as a $62 million problem that can be managed within the existing budget,” said Roberson.

“I do not see the necessity to extend taxes that are supposed to sunset,” he said.

Roberson said he is glad certain reforms will be adopted, but does not like the way they were achieved.

“I am only speaking for myself here – I am not speaking for the governor or my caucus – I don’t think it is a good idea to trade bad fiscal policy in return for some reforms,” said Roberson.

Roberson said he thinks the Legislature is making a premature decision based on a hypothetical situation and that preemptively extending taxes set to sunset is unnecessary.

“What if we get sued? What if the state loses? What if the Supreme Court opines that other parts of the budget are unconstitutional? Well, we don’t know any of that today,” said Roberson.

“There are reasonable, smart people who can argue either way whether that will or will not happen. And if it does happen, I would argue that we would be in no worse position than we are today,” he said.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, disagrees and said he thinks the governor negotiated a fair deal that meets the needs of the state.

“Republicans are going to have to swallow the fact that we had to put some additional revenue in that we didn’t really want, but in my mind the facts of this matter changed when the Supreme Court issued its ruling regarding the Clean Water Coalition, and you have to make a decision based on the facts in front of you,” said Kieckhefer.

Kieckhefer said he doesn’t think the Supreme Court case necessarily has the broad implications that the governor and many others do, but that he is choosing to trust and support the governor’s view.

“The governor has decided to be cautious, and I have decided that I needed to trust his opinion as a former attorney general of this state and as a former federal judge,” said Kieckhefer.

Kieckhefer said he was pleased with education reforms including the change to the governance structure of the state Board of Education.

“The governor will now be able to implement strategies for education in our state which have been really impossible under our current structure,” he said.

Like many Republicans, Kieckhefer is most disappointed that wanted reforms to construction defect law were not included in the deal.

“I still have significant heartburn over that, and I am really disappointed that we were not able to get that included,” he said.

“It severely undermines a lot of peoples’ ability to do business in this state,” he added.

In defense of the governor against criticism for extending the tax sunsets, Kieckhefer said he understands their position but that Sandoval is a leader who is not getting enough credit from critics for the positive things he achieved during the legislative session.

“He had an opinion about how this budget needed to be built, based on the various revenues that were available, and he was fighting for it,” said Kieckhefer.

“But when circumstances changed, he changed with them. He is not an automaton who is going to follow a campaign mantra. He is someone who wants to lead our state, and I think he proved that, and I am very proud that he is our governor,” he said.

Kieckhefer said he thinks it is significant that for the first time the state is cutting spending, biennium over biennium.

“That has not been previously done. When people have talked about cuts in the past, they have been talking about cuts in growth, but this budget is actually a shrinking the size of our state government,” he said.

“I believe we have responded to the fiscal realities of our state and have been a responsible coalition of legislators this session,” he added.