Sam Shad, host of the Nevada Newsmakers television show, resisted pressure to delve into private matters better left private during his exclusive interview with Gov. Jim Gibbons on Wednesday, and as a result viewers were treated to an unprecedented look at the governor's agenda for the remainder of his first term in office. By divorcing himself from the temptation to get sidetracked by non-issues of a personal nature, Shad gave Nevadans an interview of public policy substance which should have fiscal conservatives jumping for joy.
The governor started out by embracing the essence of state Sen. Bob Beers "Tax and Spending Control" (TASC) formula, whereby spending increases in next year's budget would be capped at the combined rate of population growth plus inflation. That's a pretty good start.
The governor then pointed out that there have been no budget "cuts" this year. In fact, all he's done is reduce the increase the government was hoping to get. Gibbons said after the reductions he ordered, the amount of money being pumped into government operations still increased by a rather healthy 12 percent.
The governor next announced that he was forming a Nevada version of Ronald Reagan's "Grace Commission" - a panel of fiscal conservatives who will take a truckload of red pens and pore through the state budget lining out waste, fraud and abuse, as well as privatizing some government services. "Open up the Yellow Pages of the phone book and if you can find a private sector industry providing a service, government should not be competing against them," the governor declared. Amen and hallelujah.
This commission, if done properly, is going to shut somebody up - either those who say there's nowhere to cut in the budget so we have to raise taxes, or those who say there's plenty of fat in the budget so no new taxes are necessary. This is a serious public policy discussion long overdue in our tax-and-spend Legislature.
When next asked about the idea of posting the government's checkbook on a public Web site, enabling taxpayers to see each and every check written - to whom, for what and for how much - the governor responded, "I think that's a great idea."
Unfortunately, the governor suggested the estimated cost of launching such a transparency Web site was too high. I'm not buying it. In a billion dollar budget there's absolutely no way you can't find $250,000 or more so that taxpayers can see exactly where their money is going. In fact, I'm willing to bet that within hours of publishing such a Web site, Nevada taxpayers will find 10 times the cost of launching it in savings. The cost of developing such a Web site is a pittance compared to the inevitable savings taxpayers will enjoy.
On the Sierra Health/United Health merger and concerns that it will all but wipe out competition in the health insurance market in Nevada, Shad asked the governor about embracing an idea being championed at the federal level by Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona whereby Nevadans would be able to shop for insurance policies available in other states. This would be sort of like what was done years ago when deregulation allowed for multi-state banking. The governor said he was absolutely in favor of such market-based competition, which would result in lower premiums for consumers.
With time running out, Shad then launched into a lightning round of policy questions from which we discovered that the governor opposes proposed ballot initiatives to raise taxes (no surprise there), supports a proposed initiative that would require a 2Ú3 super-majority vote of the people to pass any ballot initiative to raise taxes, supports a proposed initiative to provide parents with tuition assistance to send their kids to private schools if they don't think their child's public school is getting the job done, and favors a proposal whereby surplus revenue from the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority would be redirected to schools and roads. You go, Guv!
Alas, because Shad wasted so much time asking the governor serious public policy questions, we didn't find out what Gov. Gibbons thinks about Britney Spears' latest travails. Oh, well. Maybe he can get Gibbons' co-Chief-of-Staff Diane Cornwall on the show next week to field that one.
• Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit www.muthstruths.com.