Posts Tagged ‘Gustavson’

Thirteen Nevada GOP State Lawmakers Get High Ratings In First Report Card From Conservative Group

By Sean Whaley | 10:38 am November 3rd, 2011

CARSON CITY – The national conservative organization American Conservative Union ranked Nevada lawmakers for the first time in a report card released today, handing out top scores to five GOP state Senators.

Sens. Greg Brower, R-Reno; Don Gustavson, R-Sparks; Elizabeth Halseth and Michael Roberson, both R-Las Vegas; and James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville; all were named as “Conservative All-Stars of the Nevada Legislature” for scoring 100 percent in the ratings.

Another eight Republican lawmakers, two in the Senate and six in the Assembly, were identified as ACU Conservatives for scoring 80 percent or higher in the ratings.

State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

They are Sens. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas; Mike McGinness, R-Fallon; and Assembly members John Ellison, R-Elko; Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley; John Hambrick and Richard McArthur, both R-Las Vegas; Ira Hansen, R-Sparks; and Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson.

One lawmaker, Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, scored a zero on the report card and was identified as “A True Liberal of the Silver State.”

ACU Chairman Al Cardenas announced the rankings at a press event in Las Vegas.

“Just as we hold every member of Congress accountable for his or her voting record on the most important issues facing our nation, the ACU will ensure voters in Nevada have access to the latest information on their state representatives’ conservative credentials,” he said.

The ACU, which describes itself as the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization, recently announced a new initiative to expand the ACU Congressional Ratings program to state legislatures for the first time ever, grading members on their votes on key conservative issues.

State Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

The ACU said in its report that it tracks a wide range of issues before state legislatures to determine which issues and votes, “serve as a clear litmus test separating those representatives who defend liberty and liberal members who have turned their backs on our founding principles – constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, free markets, a strong national defense and traditional values.”

The votes selected for the inaugural State Legislative Ratings in each of five targeted states – Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and the Commonwealth of Virginia – are not always considered the “most important” votes as defined by others, the ACU said in its report. Instead, the votes selected are chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them.

The group selected 31 legislative measures to score the 63 Nevada lawmakers, including Assembly Bill 299, which would have imposed a 50-cent surcharge on auto insurance policies to subsidize car insurance for low income residents, which the ACU opposed. The bill did not pass.

Another measure was Assembly Bill 321, which implemented the “Castle Doctrine” in Nevada, giving citizens the right to defend themselves in their own homes. The ACU supported the bill, which was approved by both houses of the Legislature.

The ACU also used the vote on extending a collection of taxes set to expire on June 30 in its report card. Assembly Bill 561 passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval as part of a budget deal between Democrats and Republicans.

“As pleased as we are to recognize a total of 13 members of the Legislature as true conservative patriots, we are disappointed there were not more members who adhered to conservative principles,” Cardenas said. “Thankfully, Gov, Brian Sandoval, a rising star of the conservative movement, has championed limited government and pro-growth policies by vetoing several ill-conceived pieces of legislation passed by the Nevada Legislature.”

“I am honored to be named the most conservative legislator in the Nevada Assembly,” McArthur said. “This rating will reinforce the ratings I have previously received from the Nevada Policy Research Institute and Citizen Outreach.”

McArthur scored 94 percent in the ACU ratings, ranking him as the most conservative member of the Nevada Assembly.

Gustavson said he was pleased to rank so highly in the survey.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise because I have been living up to my conservative values that got me elected and keep getting me elected,” he said. “So I’m very honored to have received the award.”

-

Audio clips:

Sen. Don Gustavson said he has been living up to his conservative values:

110311Gustavson :09 received the award.”

 

Conservative Nevada Think Tank Grades Lawmakers On Taxes, Education Reform

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am June 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A conservative Nevada think tank gave passing scores to 22 Republicans in the just-concluded 2011 legislative session, handing out failing scores to four other GOP lawmakers and all 37 Democrats in a report card released today.

The report card produced by Geoffrey Lawrence of the Nevada Policy Research Institute formulated the grades based on each lawmaker’s voting record on legislation related to economic freedom and education reform. The 78 specific bills used in the analysis are available for review at the group’s website.

Tops in the analysis was Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, with a score of 89.1 percent out of a possible 100. He was followed by Sens. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, with scores of 88.63 percent. Sens. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, with a score of 88.15 percent, and James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, at 87.68 percent, rounded out the top five.

Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, won top honors in the NPRI report card./Nevada News Bureau file photo

The 12 lawmakers with the highest scores were all Republicans who voted against a measure to extend a package of taxes for two more years, six in the Senate and six in the Assembly.

“I think that will make my constituents very happy,” Gustavson said of his grade. “The business community as well.”

The state was not in a position to raise taxes this past session, although a majority of lawmakers ended up supporting such a policy, he said.

“We need to keep business going by not raising their taxes,” Gustavson said.

At the other end of the scale, Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, received the lowest score of 26.52 percent. Pierce authored a number of tax measures in the 2011 session, including a proposed tax on services and tax hikes on cigarettes and alcohol.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, another one of the low scoring Democrats, called the grade a badge of honor.

“If they don’t like me it means I’m doing something right,” he said.

Segerblom said he campaigned on increasing taxes and is a strong supporter of education and unions, positions supported by his constituents.

“They can read the score and if they don’t like my grade and don’t like the way I voted they can obviously vote me out,” he said. “But I think I voted just like my constituencies wanted me to.”

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom said the low grade from NPRI is a badge of honor./Nevada News Bureau file photo

Segerblom said based on his grade with the NPRI he intends to run for the state Senate in Clark District 3 being vacated by Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, who must step down due to term limits.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, scored the highest among Democrats at 35.55 percent, and Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, scored the lowest among Republicans at 43.98 percent.

Lawrence said the group’s 2009 report card reflected higher scores for some Democrats over Republicans. This session party affiliation and ideology went more hand-in-hand, with Republicans as a group acting in a more fiscally conservative way, he said.

Settelmeyer said he appreciates the types of pro-business measures included in the NPRI analysis.

“They tend to reflect the business friendly community that we’re trying to promote in the state of Nevada,” he said.

Roberson said he is pleased with the high grade from a group that supports free market approaches to education and fiscal policy. But he is disappointed at the level of reform finally approved by the Legislature to end the session.

“I don’t think the reforms were nearly as far reaching as I would like to see,” he said. “The governor proposed some really great education reforms that didn’t even get a vote taken.”

With Democrats in control of both houses, Republicans will focus on winning majorities in the next election cycle, Roberson said. The freshman lawmaker will head GOP efforts to win the Senate majority in 2012.

In addition to votes on several education reform measures and the budget, including a tax package that extended 2009 revenue hikes set to sunset June 30, other examples of bills used in the evaluation included a proposal to charge a fee on auto insurance policies to create a subsidized program for low-income residents of Clark County, and a measure to subsidize the development of wind and solar power.

The auto insurance measure passed the Assembly but never saw a vote in the Senate. The subsidy bill was vetoed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The grading system is adapted from one used by the National Taxpayers Union to grade Congress. The NTU methodology allows bills of greater significance to be weighted accordingly. Lawrence said NPRI adapted the grading system to include such elements as education reform.

The 2011 session was one where Sandoval and many Republicans were adamantly opposed to new taxes, with many Democrats pushing for new or increased revenues to further fund public education and other programs.

This paradigm shifted after the Nevada Supreme Court rejected the Legislature’s taking of $62 million from a Clark County water quality fund in the 2010 special session. Sandoval and some lawmakers expressed concern about the legality of using other local funds proposed as part of the new 2011-13 general fund budget that takes effect this Friday.

The ruling led to an agreement to extend the taxes set to sunset, but a number of reforms, including several to public education, were made part of the agreement. Payroll taxes for the states’ small businesses were also eliminated.

Lawrence said some of the reforms passed in the session on their own merits are more significant than those included as part of the budget and tax deal.

He cited the performance-based budgeting bill sought by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, another measure expanding empowerment schools and a third strengthening the charter school process as examples of legislation that could have far reaching consequences.

Of the reforms included in the budget deal, Lawrence said: “It is arguable that Sandoval and legislative Republicans would not have been able to secure the education and labor reforms they received had they not reversed their position and embraced taxes. However, each of the reforms had merit on its own and should not have required an 11.5 percent increase in the overall state tax burden for lawmakers to consider its passage. Time will tell if the deal was worth its price.”

Audio clips:

Geoffrey Lawrence of NPRI says the most important reforms are unrelated to the budget deal:

062811Lawrence1 :06 the budget deal.”

Lawrence says the reforms that are part of the budget deal will have to be evaluated long term:

062711Lawrence2 :10 they actually materialize.”

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom says he voted the way his constituents wanted him to vote:

062711Segerblom1 :10 wanted me to.”

Sen. Michael Roberson says he is disappointed with the level of reforms approved in the 2011 session:

062711Roberson1 :16 a vote taken.”

Roberson says the GOP goal is to win majorities in both houses of the Legislature:

062711Roberson2 :19 in the Legislature.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer says he appreciates NPRI’s bill priorities:

062711Settelmeyer1 :21 get more jobs.”

Settelmeyer says some of the measures approved this session will likely have to be re-evaluated next session:

062711Settelmeyer2 : 14 of an idea.’”

 

 

Contested GOP State Senate Primary Races Split Between Moderate And Conservative Candidates

By Sean Whaley | 10:44 am June 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – In the fight for control of the Republican Party in the state Senate in the Tuesday primary it was an even split, with conservative candidates taking two of four contested seats and two others going to more moderate candidates backed by Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio.

The winners of the contested GOP Senate primaries, depending on the results in the November general election, could change the character of the caucus. Raggio, R-Reno, has voted for tax increases in past sessions and has worked across the aisle with Democrats to end often contentious legislative sessions.

Those calling themselves the true conservatives in the contested primaries say they will not compromise on taxes or other core Republican issues.

In Washoe District 2, Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, defeated Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, 59 percent to 41 percent. Larkin, the candidate endorsed by Raggio, had a much bigger war chest in the race. Gustavson has said he will not compromise on core Republican values and will not vote for tax increases.

In another closely watched race, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, lost to state employee Ben Kieckhefer, in the Washoe 4 contest. Kieckhefer, who is endorsed by Raggio and the caucus, won 42 percent to 37 percent. Two other Republicans also ran in the primary.

Kieckhefer, who had more money to spend on the race, repeatedly ran an ad showing Cobb responding awkwardly to media questions about an incident in which he had destroyed a campaign sign belonging to a Reno Democrat running for another state Senate seat. The ad called his leadership abilities into question.

In Clark County in the GOP Senate 9 primary, challenger Elizabeth Halseth defeated incumbent Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, 57 percent to 43 percent. Nolan was criticized by Halseth in the campaign for testifying as a character witness for a friend who was being tried for a sex crime. Nolan said he was subpoenaed to testify by the public defender’s office.

Halseth said she will not support tax increases if elected to the Senate.

In the Senate 12 race in Clark County, Raggio-backed candidate Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, defeated Patrick McNaught 55 percent to 40 percent. A third candidate pulled 6 percent.

In all four races, the senators that have been serving in the districts were supporters of Raggio in the GOP caucus.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist and Independent American Party candidate for the Assembly seat in Elko, said the outcomes of the state Senate contests are not a surprise.

“Races are often determined not by ideology but by who has the most money and who runs the smartest campaign,” she said. “Even when there is tremendous interest in the elections like this year, those who are involved are a minority.

“The vast majority of people still respond to the name they know the best,” Hansen said.

Gustavson said his grass roots, door-to-door campaign made the difference in the Washoe 2 race.

“I’m always outspent,” he said. “At least 2 to 1 this time. Hard work is what wins races.”

Kieckhefer, who faces an Independent American candidate but no Democrat in the November general election, said he believes his campaign of offering effective, conservative leadership made a connection with voters. He also challenged any notion that he is not a conservative Republican.

“Obviously we have a massive budget shortfall we need to address by prioritizing spending,” he said. “I stand ready to make those hard decisions.”

In a fifth GOP Senate primary, Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, defeated fellow conservative Steve Yeater in the Capital Senate District. Settelmeyer is backed by Raggio, but has taken a strong stand against tax increases during his tenure in the Assembly. Long-time Raggio supporter Mark Amodei, who had held the seat, was term-limited out of office. He is now chairman of the Nevada State GOP.

In addition to Amodei, Raggio had the backing of Sens. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, and Nolan in past legislative sessions. Townsend and Washington also left office due to term limits. Hardy resigned.

A change in the approach by Senate Republicans in the 2011 session could mean tough negotiating with Democrats over how to balance a budget that is expected to be $3.4 billion out of balance. Other critical issues include the redrawing of political boundaries, economic diversification and a major tax debate.

If enough GOP Senate Republican are unwilling to compromise on taxes and the budget in the 2011 session, Raggio’s job could be considerably more difficult as leader of the caucus. Republicans are a minority in the Senate 9-12, the first time they have not been the majority since 1991.

Raggio is in the middle of his final term in the Senate, having served longer than anyone in state history. He was first elected to the Senate in 1973. Rumors circulated earlier this year that Raggio might resign in mid-term and not serve in 2011. Raggio has said he has no plans to step down.

Conservative Candidates Challenge Moderates in Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

By Sean Whaley | 3:55 pm May 21st, 2010

Part 2 of a Series on Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

CARSON CITY – While Republican voters have a rare chance to chart the course of the GOP Senate caucus in the upcoming primary, the candidates described by some political observers as the establishment choice say they too are true fiscal conservatives who believe in core party values.

Both Ben Kieckhefer, running against Ty Cobb in the Washoe 4 race, and Bob Larkin, running against Don Gustavson in the Washoe 2 race, reject any label to the contrary.

Both have been endorsed by the Senate Republican Caucus headed by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

“I consider myself a pretty darn conservative guy,” said Kieckhefer, a former press secretary to Gov. Jim Gibbons. “Any notion of me as some pro-tax Republican is totally flawed. I’m not.”

Larkin said his work on the Washoe County Commission, which has involved cutting $100 million from the budget over the past three years and eliminating 500 positions, is evidence of his strong GOP philosophy.

“Government can’t live beyond its means,” he said. “There was too much fat. That is what a conservative does.”

Joe Hardy, running for the Clark Senate 12 seat against newcomer Patrick McNaught, could not be reached for this story.

Sen. Dennis Nolan, who is facing a challenge in his re-election bid in Clark Senate 9 from newcomer Elizabeth Halseth, also could not be reached for comment.

The June 8 primary offers an unusual opportunity for GOP voters. Five GOP Senate contests are on the ballot with four offering a choice between what some observers say is an establishment candidate and a more conservative opponent.

The Capital Senatorial District race will see conservative representation regardless of which GOP candidate wins in the November general election. Both James Settelmeyer and his primary opponent, Steve Yeater, say they will not be willing to compromise on tax issues in the 2011 session where lawmakers face a potential $3 billion funding shortfall.

Gustavson, Cobb, Settelmeyer and Hardy, all current members of the Assembly, voted against a package of tax increases in the 2009 session. Nolan voted with Raggio and three other GOP senators for the tax increase, giving the bill three more votes than needed to meet the two-thirds requirement for passage and enough to override a veto by Gibbons.

Republicans were in the minority in the Senate in the 2009 session for the first time since 1991. But Republican support was critical to reaching the two-thirds vote needed to raise sales and payroll taxes on Nevada’s largest businesses as part of the final budget.

A new position of unwavering opposition to general tax increases on the part of Senate Republicans could make the 2011 session one of the more contentious in state history.

In addition to Larkin, Kieckhefer and Hardy, Settelmeyer has also been endorsed and given financial support by the Senate Republican Caucus headed up by Raggio.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist as a member of the Independent American Party, said that support is an enormous hurdle for Republican challengers to overcome.

“More money and access to the establishment power base is a significant issue in any race,” she said. “For non-establishment Republican candidates it is incredibly difficult to overcome. It will be very significant if it happens.”

Gustavson said he is being outspent by Larkin, who he describes as his more moderate GOP opponent, but that a low turnout in the June 8 primary could benefit his campaign. Conservatives will turn out, and Gustavson said the conservative mood of GOP voters in Nevada should be a trend in his favor.

“I think it is a revival for the true Republican Party, the conservative wing that values true conservative principles,” he said. “This is the best opportunity we have had in years.”

Gustavson said there is no question but that the Senate Republican Caucus approach in the Legislature will change if he and his conservative colleagues win in the primary.

“We would have a much more conservative state Senate that we have had for years,” he said.

Raggio’s leadership position could also be jeopardized as a result, Gustavson said.

Larkin said that if he is elected to the Senate, he will work to balance the budget while maintaining the core Republican values of limited government, minimal taxes and fostering business growth and individual freedoms.

“I am the conservative candidate who gets things done,” he said.

Cobb said he is not a member of the Senate GOP caucus and so declined to comment on what the future might hold for the group following the November general election.

But Cobb said the caucus approach would likely change with the election of himself and his fellow conservatives.

“We would be getting rid of a lot of the old school way of handling things,” he said. “There would be more conservative, aggressive members of the caucus.

“There will be a new type of leadership focused on core values,” Cobb said. “We will use every bit of leverage we have when we enter into negotiations with the opposition.”

Kieckhefer disputed any characterization of him being the establishment candidate, noting that it is Cobb who is serving in the Legislature.

While he has not signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Kieckhefer said he won’t be supporting a budget in 2011 that is any larger than the current spending plan.

“Now is not the time to increase taxes,” he said. “We need to look at our spending.”

Kieckhefer said Cobb voted for the 2007 budget that saw spending go up by 17 percent over the 2005 budget.

“So let’s be clear who people claim to be as well,” he said.

Kieckhefer said the real choice for GOP voters is a candidate who is focused on solving problems or one who has a track record of failure. Cobb has only seen one of his 17 bills become law, he said.

“We don’t need people who just sit there and be conservative and accomplish nothing,” Kieckhefer said. “The question is who is going to be an effective legislator, an effective conservative voice.”

Kieckhefer said he has the endorsement of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, which he described as a fairly conservative business organization in Northern Nevada. He believes anti-incumbent sentiment among voters will also help his bid in the primary.

Settelmeyer said the Senate GOP caucus will see more focus on core conservative values next session, but to what degree will depend on the voters.

“If they choose to send more conservative representatives we will see less going along with the increases in taxes and spending” he said. “Efforts in the past to place surpluses towards the unfunded liability of the retirement and health programs have always taken a back seat to new program creation.”

While general tax increases have been a part of many budget compromises in the past, Settelmeyer said he won’t be on board with such proposals because they, “just kick the can down the road.”

Continuing the sales and payroll taxes approved in the 2009 session, for example, won’t be an option, he said.

“They are killing businesses in the state, and we need jobs, not more boarded up businesses,” he said.

“There will definitely be a roadmap for the future of Nevada after this primary,” Settelmeyer said. “But that roadmap will be dictated by voters, as it should.”

Yeater said a true conservative will be representing the Senate capital district regardless of which GOP primary candidate wins the general in November. Yeater said he has signed the taxpayer pledge and does not believe raising taxes is a good idea, especially in the current economy.

“I want to reduce existing taxes,” he said.

Yeater said GOP voters are energized and informed and as a result, the conservative candidates will win out on primary election day.

“I believe the Senate will look a lot more conservative in 2011 than it does in 2010,” he said.

Halseth said she will not be a vote for tax increases if elected to the Senate.

Negotiations in past sessions seem always to end up favoring the Democrats, she said.

“This election cycle will be different,” Halseth said. “I’ve been meeting with the people in my district for eight months. What they want is lower taxes. Raising taxes has never been the answer. We can’t afford that anymore.”

McNaught said he decided to run for the seat because of concerns Hardy has been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past, sacrificing core GOP issues in the process. The Republican Party has lost its way by giving in to Democratic demands, he said.

McNaught said he won’t be the party of “no.”

“I will be the party of no taxes,” he said. “Any corporate or broad-based business tax will drive away jobs.”

McNaught said the state has lost tens of thousands of jobs and, “we need to get those jobs back.”

McNaught said he reached out to Raggio but that the minority leader failed to respond, instead opting to “anoint” Hardy for the open seat. He also noted that Hardy has passed up at least three different opportunities to debate him on the issues in recent weeks.

The voters in Clark Senate 12 have a clear choice, he said. A candidate who won’t raise taxes and who will seek fiscal reform, or a candidate who will consider tax increases to balance the state budget, McNaught said.

GOP Primary Voters Could Chart Course of State Senate, Nevada Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 1:29 pm May 20th, 2010

Part 1 of 2 on Five Key State Senate Races

CARSON CITY – Over the past several legislative sessions the state Senate Republican caucus has shown a willingness to work across the aisle with Democrats, with some GOP lawmakers voting more than once for tax increases as a way to balance the budget.

Led by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Senate Republicans have often gone along with programs and policies pushed by Democrats in a spirit of compromise to finish the Legislature’s business every other year.

But this long-held practice could soon change.

Three of Raggio’s long-time allies in the Senate are being termed out of office and a fourth has resigned. Former Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, are already gone, having resigned to take other jobs. A third senator loyal to Raggio, Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, will be replaced in the 2010 general election. Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, also resigned from the Senate.

Another Raggio colleague, Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, is facing a primary challenge from Elizabeth Halseth in his Clark Senate 9 re-election bid. Halseth calls herself a “true conservative” for Nevada.

These primary races all have something in common. They include Republican candidates who are, if you believe their campaign promises, far less likely to seek compromise with Democrats if they win in the primary and then general elections.

In four of these five cases, more moderate Republican primary challengers are also on the ballot, giving Republican voters a choice.

Republicans are expected to easily take at least two of the seats in the general election, and three of the five have sizable GOP voter registration edges over Democrats.

If voters decide to back the more conservative GOP candidates in the June 8 primary, the 2011 legislative session could see a far more confrontational relationship with Senate and Assembly Democrats over a multitude of issues, not the least of which will be taxes.

A conservative turnout in the primary might also shift the balance of power away from Raggio, potentially putting his position as current Senate minority leader in jeopardy. Rumors have circulated that Raggio, who is in his final term in the Senate, might step down before the 2011 session. He has denied these rumors, saying he will serve in his final session.

Raggio has served in the Senate since 1973, most often as the leader of the GOP caucus, either as majority leader or minority leader.

Early voting for the primary begins Saturday.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist with the Independent American Party, said she believes Republican voters will show up on election day and cast their votes for the true conservative candidates.

Republican voters are fed up with establishment candidates who have voted for tax increases and an ever-expanding government, she said.

Hansen, who is running as the IAP candidate for an Assembly seat in the Elko area, said some Republicans have left the party because true conservative candidates don’t get support from the powers that be.

“There is a chance for significant culture change in the state Senate,” she said. “I think it would benefit the public.”

Many observers says turnout will be a key in the contests. Lower turnout is generally viewed as favoring the more conservative candidates.

Pete Ernaut, a political consultant with R&R Partners, said there are too many variables at play to make any predictions about who will win in the contested Senate and Assembly races. The ability for candidates to talk with voters one-on-one plays a big role in such contests, he said. But Ernaut said he does believe turnout will be higher than many observers are predicting.

Several candidates also cite the adage that “all politics is local,” meaning that voters in each district may vote for a candidate based on local issues and concerns rather than some overarching conservative versus moderate theme.

Running in Washoe Senate 2 are Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, and Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, viewed as the more moderate of the two candidates. There are also two Democrats in the race. The district favors the GOP by 2,000 voters based on active registration numbers as of April.

Running in Washoe Senate 4 are Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, and former Gov. Jim Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer, again considered to be the more moderate of the two candidates. Two other Republicans, Todd Bailey and Frank Wright, are also running, but no Democrats are on the ballot. An Independent American Party candidate will be on the November ballot. The GOP has a 6,000 vote edge over Democrats in the district.

Running in the Capital Senate District are Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, and Steve Yeater. A Democrat and IAP candidate are also running but the district has an 8,000 GOP edge. Both Settelmeyer and Yeater, of Dayton, describe themselves as traditional GOP conservatives.

Running in Clark Senate 9 are Nolan and Halseth, along with three Democrats and an Independent American. The district has a nearly 4,000 Democrat voter registration advantage, however.

Running in Clark Senate 12 are Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, and newcomer Patrick McNaught, viewed as the more conservative of the two candidates. The registration balance in the district is virtually tied with Democrats. There is a third Republican, Steve Sanson, as well as a Democrat and IAP candidate, in the race as well.

The conservative Keystone Corporation, which says its goal is to recruit, support and advocate for candidates for public office who support private sector job creation, low taxation, a responsible regulatory environment, and effective delivery of essential  state services, has endorsed Cobb, Settelmeyer, Halseth and McNaught. There was no endorsement in the Washoe Senate 2 race.

Keystone Treasurer Monte Miller said the Senate candidates endorsed by his organization were selected because they share the view that the public employee sector has not shared in the job losses, salary reductions, benefit reductions and other sacrifices made by the private sector in the current downturn.

“These candidates believe that public employees need to be part of the solution,” he said.

Essential government services can be preserved if public employee wages and benefits are put more in line with what is offered in the private sector, Miller said.

The endorsed candidates also agree that businesses cannot afford to pay more taxes. The “compromise” in the 2009 session led to a 97 percent tax increase on business, he said.

The trend seen nationally of voters rejecting candidates who don’t share these views will be in evidence in Nevada in the primary as well, Miller said.

“Compromise has to come from the other side of the aisle,” Miller said. “It’s our turn.”

Next: The Candidates Weigh In on Their Races

Some Nevada Lawmakers Say Now is Time to Allow Residents to Purchase Health Care Insurance Across State Lines

By Sean Whaley | 1:43 pm April 19th, 2010

CARSON CITY – With federally mandated health insurance now the law of the land barring a successful legal challenge, some state lawmakers say it is more urgent than ever to create competition among insurance providers by allowing Nevada residents to buy polices from out of state companies.

Assemblymen Ty Cobb, R-Reno, and Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, also say it is time to reduce the many mandated coverages required for an insurance company to offer a policy in Nevada to further lower the cost of premiums.

Other states, including Arizona and Georgia, have seen bills this year to allow for the purchase of policies from outside the state. The idea has been championed for years at the federal level by Rep. John Shadegg, R-AZ.

Nevadans now can only buy health insurance from companies licensed to do business in Nevada by the state Insurance Commissioner. While 723 companies are licensed to sell insurance in the state, suggesting that there is already competition, the Division of Insurance reports that many of the companies have limited offerings or may not currently be offering policies at all.

“In reality, only a handful (about 15) of insurers have a ‘health policy’ that you could purchase to cover doctor visits, hospital stays, surgeries, etc.,” said Maria Dal Pan Dias, public information officer for the agency.

“We should open up health care insurance to competition across state lines,” Gustavson said. “People have to be given choices that are affordable.”

Gustavson, who is running for an open state Senate seat, has also opposed adding mandated coverages that drive up the cost of a health insurance plan. People should be able to select policies based on their own health care needs, he said.

Cobb agrees, saying competition would lower the cost of buying health care insurance.

“We also need portability and tort reform,” he said. “Instead of true reform we got a government takeover that will result in a massive increase in the size of government. It is the opposite of what should have been done.”

Cobb, who is also running for an open state Senate seat, said his Assembly Bill 346 introduced in the 2009 session would have repealed a lot of insurance coverage mandates to allow for basic, less costly policies to be offered to residents.

Nevada requires all health insurance plans to provide coverage for medical services including alcoholism, cervical cancer/HPV screening, colorectal cancer screening, home health care, hospice care and several others.

“It would have allowed people, especially younger people just starting out, to buy basic health care coverage,” he said. “It would have allowed greater choice in what people wanted in their coverage.”

Cobb’s bill never received a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

Las Vegas attorney Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist at the Legislature who represents several businesses, including the health insurer Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said he believes it is unlikely the Legislature will move to allow interstate competition.

The long-term policy of the state has been to mandate that certain coverages be included in any health insurance policy sold in Nevada, and Wadhams said he does not believe the Legislature would choose to move away from that policy by allowing residents to buy out-of-state policies with lesser coverage.

Wadhams said those mandates have made Nevada’s health insurance coverage among the richest, with the most generous benefits, of all the states.

Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization focused on health policy, said she would welcome efforts by the states to go out on their own to provide for increased competition by health insurance companies.

She cited a study by the American Enterprise Institute that found that if individuals were allowed to purchase health policies in nearby states, up to 12 million more people would have health insurance at no cost to the government.

“It would be a great idea if there was true competition,” Turner said. “It’s not easy, but you can make it work. You don’t have to go to the lowest common denominator.”

States could ensure there were protections for residents while still allowing them to make their own choices for coverage without a mandate from the federal government, she said.

“I would love to see states do this, to take the initiative,” Turner said. “If states can do an end run around ObamaCare, then more power to them.”

Not everyone agrees that providing for such competition would actually lower health care costs, however.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, in a document called, “Interstate Health Insurance Sales: Myth vs. Reality,” said the real result would be lower premiums only for the healthy. Everyone else “would face steep premium hikes if they can find coverage at all.”

The association also disputes the suggestion that mandated benefits are the cause of more expensive health insurance coverage.

“Mandated benefits add, at most, 5 percent to the cost of a policy,” the association said. “Interstate sales would allow some insurers to cherry-pick the best customers by avoiding consumer protections that require them to cover individuals with preexisting conditions and limit their ability to charge higher prices for older, sicker customers.”

In states with robust consumer protections, insurers could reap huge profits by skirting these rules, the association said.

UnitedHealthcare of Nevada, one of the largest health insurance providers in the state with approximately 691,000 members, including those covered under Medicaid and Medicare through state and federal government contracts, had no comment on the concept. The company is a licensed insurer at some level in every state, and is one of the largest health plans in the country.

The Georgia proposal, pushed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.

“This legislation will open up the individual insurance market and allows consumers to find the plan that best fits their needs,” Perdue said in a statement issued in February.

Janine Hansen, an Independent American Party candidate for Assembly District 33 in Elko, said the Nevada Legislature first needs to challenge the new federal health care law when it convenes next February as other state legislatures have already done.  Then lawmakers need to have a discussion about how to lower the cost of health insurance, she said.

One idea is to create tax-free health savings accounts that individuals can pay into and then use the money for their health care needs in combination with a catastrophic-type policy, she said.

As to interstate health insurance purchases, Hansen said competition is usually a driving force in lowering costs, although she said she would have to learn more about the concept.

“Exploring ideas like competition is exactly what we need to do,” she said.

More Calls for Ensign’s Resignation Trickle In

By Sean Whaley | 8:08 am April 11th, 2010

(Updated at 10:02 a.m. and again at 10:41 a.m. on April 11, 2010)

CARSON CITY – Despite being described as a “wounded” senator who has not been effective in representing Nevada in Washington, DC, state Republican officials and candidates surveyed by the Nevada News Bureau for the most part are still not calling on U.S. Senator John Ensign, R-Nev., to step down.

Ensign, under the cloud of an ethics investigation over whether he provided inappropriate and possibly illegal help to former administrative assistant Doug Hampton, was called upon to resign earlier this week by two former Clark County GOP officials. Ensign last year acknowledged having an affair with Hampton’s wife.

Among the few Republicans willing to call for Ensign’s resignation was Michael Roberson, candidate for Senate District 5.

“As a taxpayer and constituent, I have heard and read enough to join other Nevadans in calling for Senator Ensign to resign,” said Roberson. “His behavior shows a callous disregard for moral decency, the dignity of his office and for those of us who elected him.”

“I realize that some suggest that we should wait for the Senate Ethics Committee and U.S. Department of Justice investigations to conclude before making such a determination. However, through his own admitted actions, I do not believe Senator Ensign is worthy of the job he currently holds, and that he is in fact letting Nevadans down by continuing to fight for his job,” he said.

Roberson said that whether Senator Ensign is indicted or cleared is a legal matter and not his top concern.

“As an attorney and a member of the Nevada Bar, I certainly respect our legal system, and I believe Senator Ensign does deserve a full, fair and complete investigation,” he said. “However, the behavior he has shown and the decisions he has made make him an unsuitable representative for our state.”

“Our congressional delegation is weakened by this scandal – and therefore, so is our representation in Congress. Nevada taxpayers  deserve better. It is time for Senator Ensign to resign and allow a more suitable and effective Senator to replace him,” he said.

Ira Hansen, a Sparks resident running for Assembly District 32, also said he thinks Ensign should step down.

“I’ve been a big Ensign supporter from Day One,” he said. “I still think very highly of the guy. But I am extremely disappointed in his unfortunate personal behavior.”

“While it is true that Ensign is innocent until proven guilty,” Hansen said, “his violation of his family values positions by having an extramarital affair does justify asking him to step down.”

“Whether his resignation would be in the best interests of the state is a much bigger question,” he said. “It’s a tough call.”

Elizabeth Halseth, candidate for Senate District 9, also agrees it is time for Ensign to go.

“If you cannot lead effectively, there is limit to your success and the success of those you serve,” said Halseth.  “While I applaud Senator Ensign for the great things he has done for our state, I believe he has become ineffective and will ultimately harm our ability to grow.”

Halseth said she believes we need strong elected officials officials who can help Nevada get back on track.

“The people are our strength, and the people have lost faith in Senator Ensign’s ability to lead effectively,” said Halseth.  “For that reason, I believe it’s in the best interest of the people, the party and the state of Nevada that Senator Ensign resigns immediately.”

Calinit Atia, candidate for state Assembly District 22, said she believes elected officials must always put their constituents first and that it may be time for Ensign to consider stepping aside.

“I don’t know if what Dean Heller said is true, but if John Ensign has lost his effectiveness, then yes, I would say he should put the state’s interests before his own and step down,” said Atia.

“These are dark days for John Ensign and his family and the choices he needs to make are not easy, but they are choices that must be made,” she said.  “My heart goes out to his family.”

George Harris, a former chairman and former treasurer of the Clark County Republican party, re-iterated past statements calling for Ensign’s resignation.

“If Ensign continues to be a wasp in the GOP ointment, he will ultimately damage the prospects of those who come out of the primary election,” Harris said.  “The opposition will absolutely use this ethics scandal against all Republicans in the general election.”

“Ensign could save everyone a lot of embarrassment,” Harris said.  “The problem is, he has become the story.  The media and the Democrats are basically turning him into a clown, the longer this drags on and the more facts come to light.”

“From a strategic perspective, as the former head of the Republican Senatorial Committee, Ensign knows that if this was anyone else, he would be the first in line to tell them to resign,” said Harris. “We cannot have this kind of thing hanging over the party. Ensign should discontinue his selfish behavior and resign now.”

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., agreed in television interviews this week that Ensign is a “wounded” junior senator and that Nevada needs a stronger voice in Washington. But he stopped short of calling for Ensign to resign.

In a written statement to the Las Vegas Review Journal, U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian said, “After consideration of the news reports and Congressman Heller’s recent statements — which I take very seriously — I think the issue is that the people of Nevada need to know that Senator Ensign can represent them effectively.”

“I must respectfully say that as the potential Republican nominee, I do not expect to be campaigning with Senator Ensign this fall,” said Tarkanian.

Interviews with a number of other Nevada Republicans do reveal a general reluctance to call for Ensign’s resignation.  The general consensus is that Ensign has not yet been found guilty of any wrongdoing and that he will make the right decision for Nevada when the time comes.

Still, there is acknowledgment that Ensign’s troubles are creating problems for the Republican Party in Nevada because he can’t raise money for candidates or campaign on their behalf.

U.S. Senate John Chachas said, “Senator Ensign has suffered a great deal of personal and professional grief for some self-acknowledged lapses in judgment and behavior. Nevadans should not make sport of tap-dancing on someone’s misery.

“That said, elected officials need to be held to a higher standard. They have to be,” he added.  “I have served on boards of directors in business, and if a senior director had such issues, I would give him or her a nudge and suggest that moving on would be good for the company and shareholders.”

“But this is politics. The only ‘board’ is the electorate every six years. So in the interim, the only thing that matters is the good judgment of the individual,” said Chachas.  “I am confident Sen. Ensign will exercise good judgment for Nevada. His career and reputation are not the issue. The issue is Nevada, and I am confident he will do the right thing in that regard.”

Mike Montandon, gubernatorial candidate and the former mayor of North Las Vegas, said Ensign appears to be a liability for Republican candidates because they are clearly not seeking his endorsement.

But the issue of his resignation is a decision only Ensign can make, he said.

“I’m not going to call for anyone’s resignation,” Montandon said. “If someone in public office can’t make that decision for himself, then something is wrong.”

Montandon also noted that an Ensign resignation, should it occur, raises myriad political issues that could ripple across the state. Whether it would be better before or after the primary and how it might affect the re-election chances of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are just two of those issues, he said.

State Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said Ensign’s troubles are damaging to the GOP brand, but he added that the inquiries into his actions are still in progress.

“In America we have a system where you are innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “So in the absence of any clear criminal wrongdoing, it would presumptuous of me to be the judge, jury and executioner.”

Democrats are using Ensign’s troubles to their advantage, but ethics issues aren’t unknown to Democrats, Goedhart said. He pointed to New York Rep. Charles Rangel, who is facing an ethics probe of his own.

“Is it reducing Ensign’s effectiveness? Yes,” he said. “Am I calling on him to step down? No. Not unless he has been found guilty of criminal wrongdoing.”

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, a candidate for state Senate, said he believes Ensign will do what is best for the state.

“He has not been charged or convicted, so it is very premature for people to be calling his resignation,” he said.

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, who is also running for an open state senate seat, said he has stayed out of the controversy but said a resignation could, “throw a monkey wrench into the elections.”

A resignation now would be poor timing, he said.

“We should wait and see what the investigations turn up,” Gustavson said. “Let it take its course. Until then I’m not suggesting we do anything different.”

U.S. Senate candidate Garn Mabey, a former member of the state Assembly, said he would agree with the description of Ensign as a “wounded” senator. But Mabey said he considers Ensign a friend who helped him win his first race for elective office.

“I’m not going to throw him under the bus,” he said.

Mabey said he does not believe Ensign’s troubles will affect other Nevada Republican candidates.

“I think he is a good man,” Mabey said. “It is a decision he has to make.”

U.S. Senate candidate and Assemblyman Chad Christensen said: “This has been an unfortunate situation all the way around. There are two basic issues here. If John Ensign did anything illegal he should resign, if not then voters should decide in 2012 if he should stay.”

Rob Lauer, a candidate for secretary of state, said he believes in loyalty and called Ensign “a great Republican.” It is up to Ensign to decide whether he can continue to be effective in Congress, he said.

“I like him personally,” Lauer said. “He has done a lot of good things for the state. But on a political level as a senator he has an obligation to the people of the state. If he can’t get bills through, if he is not effective for the state, he needs to do what is best for the state.”

Ensign’s troubles are an issue for Nevada Republicans because without them, he could raise money and help GOP candidates, Lauer said. Until the issues facing him are resolved, he can’t be an effective leader for Nevada Republicans, he said.

Craig Lake, candidate for Congressional District 1, declined to comment on the matter. Brian Sandoval, a former federal judge running for governor, also had no comment.

Patrick McNaught, candidate for Senate District 12, and Michelle Fiore, candidate for CD-1, could not be reached for comment. U.S. Senate candidates Sharron Angle also could not be reached.

Happy First Filing Day!

By Elizabeth Crum | 11:06 am March 1st, 2010

Today is the first day for filing for non-judicial candidates.  March 12 (next Friday) is the last.

Our Secretary of State helpfully provides e-notifications when candidates file.  I’ll post today’s here (via update) as they come in.

Update (3:14 p.m. on 3/5/10): Missed, somehow, although I thought I had gotten them all:

Tom Jones (IAP) – State Senate District #9

Leonard Foster (IAP) – Assembly District #13

8:54 AM:

Ross Miller (D) – Secretary of State

Kevin Melcher (Non-Partisan office) – University Board of Regents – District 8

Sharron Angle (R) – U.S. Senate

John Ellison (R) – Assembly District #33

Frederick Lee Conquest (D) – Governor (filed in Las Vegas)

9:34 AM:

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) – Attorney General

Gary Schmidt (D) – State Senate Washoe District 2

Barry Herr (R) – Controller (filed in LV)

Jacob Hafter (R) – Attorney General (filed in LV)

11:01 AM:

Amy R. Clemens (R) – Assembly District #40

Edward Hamilton (D) - U.S. Senate (filed in LV)

Robert E. Goodman (D) – Lieutenant Governor (spelling of last name corrected from Goodwin to Goodman per SOS notice on 3/3/09)

Patrick Coletti (R) – CD 2

Robin Williamson (D) – Assembly District #40

Kim Wallin (D) - State Controller

11:15 AM:

Brian Sandoval (R) – Governor

Russell Best (Independent American) – CD2

12:45 PM:

Cecilia Stern (R) – U.S. Senate (filed in LV)

Robert X. Leeds (R) – U.S. Senate (filed in LV)

Don Gustavson (R) – State Senate District #2

2:40 PM:

Kelly Kite (R) – Assembly District #39

Kate Marshall (D) – State Treasurer

Sue Lowden (R) – U.S. Senate

James Settelmeyer (R) – State Senate Capitol District

4:10 PM:

Carlo Poliak (D) – U.S. Senate (filed in LV)

Dean Heller (R) – CD 2

And finally:

Gary G. Gladwill (R) – Assembly District #38

Conservative Caucus, GOP Minority Fight to Get Their Views Heard in Special Session

By Sean Whaley | 4:51 pm February 24th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Assembly Republicans, who haven’t had a majority presence in the Legislature in 25 years, are working with their Senate colleagues in the special session in an effort to get their views heard on how to solve a $900 million budget shortfall.

Senate Republicans, who are in the minority themselves in the upper house for the first time since 1991, nevertheless have some leverage in the budget debate.

The GOP caucus in the Assembly stands at 14 members, one shy of the number needed to block a two-thirds vote on fee or tax increases. Fee increases are very much a part of the discussion of how to balance the budget.

Senate Democrats, however, have only 12 of the 14 votes they need to approve such measures. So Republican support is essential if a tax or fee increase is to be part of the budget solution.

A two-thirds vote is also required to override a veto. Gov. Jim Gibbons has threatened to use his veto authority if a measure comes to him that does not fit in with his views on such revenue enhancements. Gibbons had indicated he will only support such increases if the affected industries agree to the levy.

A new wrinkle for the 23 GOP lawmakers in the two houses, however, as the special session moves through its second day, is a subset of Republicans who want to bring their own plan forward on how to balance the budget, a plan that would not rely on fees or taxes but cuts.

The effort is a work in progress.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said her caucus recognizes the number disadvantage and the need to work with Senate Republicans to gain leverage.

“Pete Goichoechea, (R-Eureka) and I attend quite a few leadership meetings to make sure our voices are heard,” she said. “We’re very focused on cuts right now. There are a lot of pieces that seem to be coming together. We’re really trying to figure out what the whole package is.

“We have not come to any consensus, particularly on the new fee and revenue items in the budget,” Gansert said.

Gansert said the caucus is interested in taking a look at Nevada’s collective bargaining law to see if it can at least be altered to require public employee contract negotiations to be subjected to the state Open Meeting Law. The process involves taxpayer money and the public should be involved in the process, she said.

Gibbons, who saw a couple of his budget-balancing proposals fall by the wayside today, amended the proclamation calling the Legislature into special session to consider Nevada’s collective bargaining law, among several other items.

Gibbons’ proposal to raise $50 million by revising the mining tax deduction, and a plan to use traffic cameras to catch uninsured motorists that reportedly would have raised $30 million, were both rejected by lawmakers.

Both these issues were problematic for some in the GOP caucus, so seeing them taken off the table simplifies the ideological concerns, at least for the time being. Their elimination also creates an $80 million gap in the budget plan, however.

Gansert said she retains strong support in the caucus for her service as minority leader, despite a comment by Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, that Gansert is too willing to compromise with Democrats. Hambrick’s comment was reported in the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday.

Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said his caucus is benefiting from a national shift to the right in the political climate.

“So the pendulum swings, and just because you are low today doesn’t mean you won’t be high tomorrow,” he said.

The last time Republicans had a strong presence in the lower house was in 1995, when there was a 21-21 split requiring a power-sharing arrangement. Lynn Hettrick, now a deputy chief of staff to Gibbons, was GOP co-speaker in that session.

In a twist of political irony, Hettrick’s present-day successor, Gansert, has contributed to a rift in GOP leadership by joining Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio in endorsing Brian Sandoval over Governor Gibbons in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

A source on the Gibbons’ campaign team acknowledged that Gansert and Raggio’s support of the governor’s opponent along with Raggio’s recent support of Sandoval’s proposal to sell and lease back state buildings in order to generate revenue – a plan the Governor strongly opposes – has infuriated Gibbons and contributed to the recent war of words between the governor’s office and Raggio as budget talks have progressed.

Despite the contentious tone between the governor’s office and Republican legislative leadership and the numbers disadvantage, Assembly Republicans are trying to remain involved, Hardy said. “We still get to ask questions. We still have a voice.”

Hardy said the Senate GOP caucus has been willing to listen to Assembly Republicans, but he acknowledges there are no easy answers to the current fiscal crisis.

“It’s not so much good ideas right now (but) which is the least of the worst ideas,” he said.

Hardy praised Gansert’s leadership, calling her performance “excellent.”

While there is a view by many Republicans that the current budget problems should not be solved through the imposition of new fees and taxes, Hardy said his own position is to accept such solutions if they are acceptable to the affected industries or interest groups.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said the Assembly caucus has been encouraged to participate in the leadership discussions on how to solve the budget gap.

Senate Republicans, because of the two-thirds vote requirement for tax and fee measures, retains some level of power in the discussion, he said. The Assembly has not had that luxury.

“I told them just because you don’t have the numbers doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution,” Townsend said. “But just saying “no” is not being part of the solution. Saying “yes” to everything is not being part of the process either. Jump in and explain the things that are important to you. You may win a few.”

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, a fiscal conservative who would like to see Nevada adhere to a state spending cap, said balancing the budget with new taxes and fees is not the answer.

The state should use 2001 as the base year and then allow for growth based only on inflation and population growth, he said.

“We’re not going to do that in the special session, but that is what my goal will be,” Gustavson said.

“We are working with Senate Republicans on the budget,” he said. “We met with them last night and had a long discussion. They have a little more pull than we do, obviously.”

Every agency, including public education, will have to take a cut to get the state out of the current crisis, Gustavson said.

Gibbons Defends Budget Plan, Challenges Nevadans to Provide Alternatives if they Disagree

By Sean Whaley | 4:43 pm February 17th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons today defended his plan to balance the state budget and challenged critics to come forward with workable alternatives if they object to any parts of his proposal.

In formally calling the Legislature into special session on Tuesday to deal with a massive funding shortfall, Gibbons yesterday released his list of proposals to balance the budget. It contains 40 different items, from 10 percent budget cuts to state agencies and education to taking $12.6 million from a scholarship fund.

The proposals cut spending in the current two-year budget by $895 million.

“If anyone else has any ideas on how to fix it, I am listening,” Gibbons said. “This criticism does not recognize that this problem is fixable, and I have presented a plan to fix it.”

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee will meet tomorrow and Monday to review Gibbons’ budget balancing proposals and review other options available to them.

Gibbons’ call for critics to produce their own solutions received some support today.

Mary Lau, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Nevada, said: “Work together people. If you don’t like this $20 million idea, then come up with a different $20 million idea. Instead we get the immediate response that the governor is mean-spirited. Where is the policy in that?”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was quoted in the Reno Gazette-Journal as saying: “This governor is mean-spirited and continues to put education last instead of first.”

Horsford said Gibbons has rejected some legislative proposals to reduce spending and instead proposed what he views as unacceptably large cuts to education.

Lau said the state needs productive discussions to get out of the budget crisis, not posturing.

While Gibbons said today his proposal to eliminate some deductions provided to the mining industry to generate $50 million in new revenue to the state is not a tax, Lau disagreed. Bringing more revenue into the state, particularly without the cooperation of the industry, is clearly a tax increase, she said. But she added it may be an effort to bring the industry to the table to forge an agreement on some type of revenue enhancement.

In contrast, Lau said the proposal to ensure sales taxes from purchases made over the Internet are appropriately levied and collected by the state is a legitimate endeavor and not a new tax.

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association, said Gibbons’ plan is a starting point that at least is on the table for public discussion and comment.

“It has been said by (Gibbons) and the Legislature there are no easy solutions to this,” she said. “I’m sure there are other elements that will surface. If some cuts are considered to be too steep there may be compromise, and cuts may be minimized in one area with greater cuts elsewhere.

“But in an economy like this there is nothing anyone can do that is going to be totally embraced as wonderful,” Vilardo said.

Vilardo agreed that the mining industry proposal is clearly a tax increase. But until details emerge on what “loopholes” Gibbons is proposing to eliminate to generate the new revenue, she had no further comment on the proposal.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, acknowledged that Gibbons at least has released a plan to balance the budget.

But he criticized the proposal to sweep the reserve fund that pays for the homeowner association Ombudsman’s Office, a position in the state Real Estate Division that resolves association disputes that Schneider worked to establish in 1997.

The fund is generated by a $3 fee per home per year and is only paid by residents of associations, he said. Taking the fund is the equivalent of levying a tax increase on one segment of the state.

“You can’t sweep that fund,” Schneider said. “It’s not general fund. It is specially set aside to run the ombudsman’s office. That is going to irritate a lot of people.”

The state Budget Office said today that only $500,000 of the $2.7 million in the ombudsman account is being proposed to be used as part of Gibbons’ budget balancing plan, not the entire amount.

Asked for an alternative to the proposal, Schneider said a better way to raise taxes would be to close loopholes in existing law that allow some businesses operating in Nevada to not pay their fair share of taxes to the state.

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, said Gibbons has put forward a well reasoned plan and deserves credit for doing so.

“I think it is a workable plan if we can get it passed, although the leadership on the other side is not happy with it,” he said. “I think there are quite a few items that they will agree to because we are in trouble.”

Gustavson said he does not support one element: the proposal to use traffic cameras to capture revenue from uninsured motorists. But he acknowledged that he and other lawmakers must now find a way to make up for the $30 million that is proposed to be generated by the program.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said Gibbons does deserve credit for presenting a plan to balance the budget. But the lawmaker said he still has doubts about some of the components, particularly the proposal to close the Nevada State Prison with the accompanying layoff of 136 employees.

“I don’t know if shutting down NSP is going to save us any money,” he said.

Settelmeyer said he also has questions about whether the Department of Corrections has the space elsewhere in the system to accommodate the NSP inmate population.

“A lot of these proposals are extremely painful cuts,” he said. “The question is can we come up with better alternatives, and if so, will the governor alter the proclamation to include our concepts?”

One point is clear, Settelmeyer said: “Don’t bet on a one-day session.”