Legislature controls budget debate
November 5, 2008
Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and Nevada’s legislative leaders are scheduled to discuss the state’s growing budget crisis on Friday ” and he may find himself doing more listening than talking now that voters have put Democrats in charge of both the Assembly and Senate for the first time since 1991.
Due to the combination of Republican problems at the national level and dramatic voter registration shifts in two Clark County senate seats, incumbents Bob Beers and Joe Heck were both defeated by Democratic newcomers Allison Copening and Shirley Breedon.
Although the margin for Heck’s loss was just 600 votes, the margin of victory for Copening was nearly 3,000 votes, against incumbent Beers who ran for governor in 2006.
The two losses flipped the bare 11-10 GOP control of the Senate to a 12-9 margin for Democrats; and a one-seat gain in the Assembly gave Democrats a veto-proof 28-14 advantage there.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, who takes over as majority leader in the Senate, are developing what they hope will be solutions for the worsening budget problems ” and those solutions are likely to clash with Gibbons’ solutions to date of repeated budget cuts and no new or increased taxes.
Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer says the governor has “no agenda other than talking.” That’s wise, since even some leading Republicans in the Legislature are balking at the idea of deep cuts beyond the $1.2 billion already chopped from the state budget.
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Horsford said he doesn’t know whether increased taxes or fees will be part of the cure advanced during the upcoming 2009 legislative session for the state’s financial woes, given declines in the state’s major revenue sources, increasing unemployment and other problems.
“We’re going to have to really take a very cautious approach on how we budget for the state both now and in the future,” Horsford said. But he added that Democrats will push “a new set of priorities” that will include education system and health insurance improvements ” both potentially big-ticket items.
While the election results gave Democrats the majority, it does leave Horsford two votes shy of the two-thirds super majority needed to pass spending bills or tax and fee increases.
Buckley said that with Democrats in charge of both houses, “obviously this is going to change the dynamic.” She added, “We’re going to propose some bold initiatives that will stimulate the economy and help the average Nevadan. The voters have given us a message for change.”
Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who steps down as majority leader to become minority leader in the Senate, said Democrats now in charge of the Senate don’t have a large enough voting edge to ignore him and other GOP lawmakers. But at the same time he said he doesn’t favor meat-ax budget cuts.
“You can’t make cuts so deep that you decimate the state,” said Raggio. “We will work together.”
The state is expected to take in $2 billion from its major revenues this fiscal year ” below the $2.4 billion that had been predicted earlier. Agencies have requested $7.2 billion for the next two fiscal years, but Budget Director Andrew Clinger has said $1 billion may have to be cut from those requests.
The requests reflect 14 percent reductions for most agencies. An additional $1 billion would mean a 30 percent cut in the proposed spending.
In addition to Friday’s talks, members of the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee will meet Dec. 8-9 and then again on Dec. 15 to talk about the budget problems. Gibbons will deliver his “State of the State” message and release his proposed two-year budget on Jan. 19. The 2009 legislative session starts Feb. 2.
” Nevada Appeal reporter Geoff Dornan contributed to this story.