Republican legislative leaders Wednesday claimed their Democratic colleagues are trying to confuse Nevada's budget issue and said they will stand strong with Gov. Brian Sandoval's no new tax stance.
In a letter to supporters, Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the governor's budget that seeks to slash spending to 2007 levels uses "honest numbers" as a starting point.
They praised Sandoval's State of the State address, delivered Jan. 24, as "a refreshing call for teamwork," and said his budget proposal is "one that Nevada can afford."
But while calling for an end to budget rhetoric, they spread some of their own.
"There will always be some people dedicated to the status quo," the letter said. "Unfortunately some have chosen to dust off an old political strategy designed to confuse the public.
By presenting a barrage of numbers from a variety of sources, they seek not to advance an agenda of their own but to confuse the issue.
"Don't fall for it," the letter said.
The 2011 Legislature convenes Monday in Carson City. In pre-session hearings on Sandoval's spending plan, Sen. Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said the administration was using misleading numbers and described the budget as "trickery."
Heidi Gansert, Sandoval's chief of staff, said the administration based its budget proposal and ensuing cuts on existing spending levels.
But Democrats counter the cuts are much deeper than the governor's estimated
6 percent when compared to funding approved by the 2009 Legislature that relied heavily on temporary tax hikes and one-time stimulus funds, and before reductions were made in a special session last year. Sandoval has proposed a $5.8 billion general fund budget for the two year cycle that begins July 1, and has said he will not raise taxes or fees.
The letter from the Republican caucus leaders asked "that our colleagues trade their rhetoric for a plan."
"They owe it to every Nevadan to begin providing specific details of not just their plan, but also how they propose to fund it," the letter said.
Asked for a response, Horsford said, "Building a balanced budget that protects our kids is the number one priority. The governor's proposed budget guts education, both K-12 and our colleges and universities.
"That is unacceptable for our kids, their futures and the economic health of our state in the long term," he said. Sandoval wants to reduce K-12 funding by $270 per pupil and raid school reserves by $425 million to defray the costs of overall education spending.
Higher education officials say the governor's proposal would cut $162 million. Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said Democrats know "we will have to make cuts," but said lawmakers "will examine every proposed budget cut for its real impact and cost to our state and constituents."
He said Democrats "will offer specific proposals" for long-term spending reforms, economic development and a "vision for Nevada's future." The administration says the governor's budget is a 6 percent overall reduction.
But Democrats counter the cuts are much deeper when compared with funding levels approved in 2009, and are even bigger if the $8.3 billion agencies requested to maintain existing programs and account for caseload increases are factored.
Both McGinness and Goicoechea in the recent past expressed doubts Nevada's budget crisis could be solved by cuts alone. But they signaled Wednesday they would stand firm with Sandoval.
"There's been several sessions where I've supported tax packages," McGinness said. But he opposed tax hikes in 2009, and said "I can't support a tax package this time either." Goicoechea, who came under fire from conservatives last summer when he suggested Nevadans be allowed to vote on repealing a ban against sales tax on groceries, has since hardened his opposition.
He said most of his constituents believe Nevada's economy, saddled with record unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures, remain s depressed.
"I think we're probably in worse times than we were seven or eight months ago," Goicoechea said. Democrats hold majorities in both the Senate and Assembly, but lack the two-thirds majority needed to pass tax increases and override a governor's veto. They would need support from three Republicans in the Senate and two in the Assembly to meet the threshold.