Governor proud of work he’s done for Nevada | NevadaAppeal.com

Governor proud of work he’s done for Nevada

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Gov. Kenny Guinn reflects on eight years in office Thursday at the Capitol.
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Gov. Kenny Guinn today begins his fourth – possibly fifth – attempt to retire.

With the 10 a.m. swearing in of Jim Gibbons, Guinn is officially relieved of the responsibility, and says proudly he is leaving Nevada government and its programs better off than when he became governor eight years ago.

Guinn, 70, has also had careers as superintendent of the Clark County School District, head of PriMerit Bank and head of Southwest Gas. He was also president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for a year during that school’s financial crisis.

“I’m definitely not going to take another job,” he vowed.

Instead, he and his wife, Dema, will divide their time between the family home in Las Vegas and their new house in Reno.

When Guinn took office in 1998, his first task was to cut $350 million from the state budget. He did so, instituting a hiring freeze and cutting 1,000 vacant positions from the budget.

He put state agencies on a diet, mandating they limit their two-year funding requests to a base of two times their current year’s budget plus inflationary costs.

Then he ordered a “fundamental review” by all agencies of their operations and programs. By 2001, he said, that review had cut another $30 million from state spending.

He privatized the state’s industrial insurance system, lifting a multibillion dollar unfunded liability from the state’s shoulders; created the Millennium Scholarship to give Nevada high school graduates with a “B” average or higher money for college; set up Senior RX to provide low-cost prescription drugs to low-income seniors; bonded for more than $1 billion worth of critically needed highway and road work; and greatly expanded funding for mental health programs. He also pushed through a $300 million rebate to taxpayers and began all-day kindergarten, with $22 million to implement it in at-risk schools.

Guinn is proud also of the tough stand he took on blocking public utility deregulation in Nevada.

“There was tremendous pressure on me not to stop deregulation,” he said. He said letting the process go forward would have put Nevada consumers at the mercy of California and left their energy needs in the hands of a company owned by Enron.

“That would have been a catastrophe,” he said.

Guinn gets good marks from other top politicians including Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

“Gov. Guinn was a great leader for Nevada, particularly during an extremely trying time,” said Raggio referring to the economic slump after Sept. 11, 2001. “He helped our state through one of its darkest hours.”

Buckley praised him as a good governor “who worked hard and fought for what he believed in. It didn’t always make him popular, but he did it because he thought it was right for the state of Nevada.”

Detractors focus only on his proposal to broaden the state tax base and increase revenues. After a bitter session and two special sessions, lawmakers passed and Guinn signed a package that increased taxes $833 million over the 2003-05 biennium.

He says tax reform was an obvious need in his first year as governor, but the demand was accelerated by 9/11. And he still has little patience for those who fought the increase.

“All those who say we didn’t need this money, show me the cuts.”

He asked those demanding budget cuts in 2003 repeatedly to show him where he should reduce spending. The opponents, a group of 15 Republican holdouts in the Assembly, refused, saying that would only make their list a target.

“If someone says, ‘We don’t have any money, cut the budget,’ don’t you think they ought to have a list of cuts?” he asked.

For the same reason, he says he no longer spends time on what he considers lost causes.

“Why spend time with someone who says things like, ‘I don’t believe in having health care in the state’? I’m not going to change that person.”

Guinn has some advice for his successor: “The thing I would say to people is, once you get here, the job will change the individual more than the individual will change the process of government. It’s no longer a political debate; it’s reality.”

He said it’s important to be a good listener “so people can help you make the right decisions.”

In dealing with the Legislature, he said, “You won’t get everything, but if you prioritize, you’ll get enough to move to the next step. In some cases, it takes four or eight years to get there.”

He said a governor should arrive with some priorities, but, “I would think people should come here with an open mind for what it takes to fund education, health care, public safety and other things.”

Events, he said, will change those priorities so they shouldn’t be etched in stone.

Finally, Guinn said: “If you don’t want to help people, you shouldn’t be in this job.”

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750. Associated Press reporter Brendan Riley contributed to this report.