Governor renews veto threat; Buckley critical of his leadership | NevadaAppeal.com
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Governor renews veto threat; Buckley critical of his leadership

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Gov. Jim Gibbons leaves his office in the Capitol on Thursday night following a televised speech addressing state budget concerns. Gibbons has called for a special session of the Legislature to close and estimated $275 million budget deficit.
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Gov. Jim Gibbons and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, both took their shots in speeches Thursday night as the governor officially called the 24th special session of the Legislature.

Gibbons renewed his unyielding opposition to any tax or fee increases.

“I will veto anything coming out of the Legislature that calls for a tax increase to fix our problem,” he said in a 15 minute television address.

That said, he put the burden on lawmakers to find a way to take another $275 million out of the current two-year budget, directing lawmakers to “consider all reasonable options they deem necessary to address this shortfall.”

Buckley, saying it’s hard to respond to any Gibbons recommendations when she had just heard them, levied sharp criticism of how the governor has handled the budget crisis.

She said Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, has worked hard and in a bipartisan manner with her to solve the state’s problems and described him as “an honest and dedicated public servant”

“I cannot say the same for our governor,” she said.

She said former governors Bob Miller and Kenny Guinn acted “collaboratively, quickly and strongly” during the financial crises they faced.

“This governor has rarely consulted the legislature,” she said adding that he reversed himself 24 hours after saying there would be no special session and has never shared his plans for that session with lawmakers.

In his speech, Gibbons, who originally backed the idea of taking back the 4 percent raises for state workers and teachers that take effect July 1, said he now opposes doing so. He said It wouldn’t be responsible especially when Nevada is having a hard time attracting teachers.

He did so after even staunch Republican lawmakers said there aren’t enough votes to pass legislation taking back the raises.

Gibbons also said he wants to protect the textbook and technology funding guaranteed to school districts. But Buckley said it was the school districts who said they could give that money up for a year as long as the plan included a trigger restoring the funding if the economy improves.

Buckley said that money would provide $45 million toward the $275 million shortfall.

Gibbons said lawmakers should reduce operating budgets by at least $128 million more. He included a number of potential solutions provided by his fiscal staff and Raggio including $27 million from the public health trust fund, $45 million by delaying more transportation projects now in the design process and $7.6 million in unclaimed property receipts.

“There are enough options to consider that we will reach our targeted shortfall of $275 million,” he said.

But if the Legislature can’t get to that target, he said, they should use the tobacco settlement money to guarantee up to $700 million in bonds.

“We can then use this one-time infusion of cash to help get us through the remainder of this budget while stabilizing Millennium scholarships and other programs for the future.”

Opponents of that plan have argued the state would be trading the $1.2 billion Nevada should get from the tobacco settlement during the next 17 years for a one-time payment of just more than half that.

Buckley said she opposes that idea, which would strip the funding stream that supports the Millennium Scholarship program and senior services including Senior Rx, which is Nevada’s plan to provide seniors relief from the cost of prescription medicine.

The governor also called on lawmakers to set a new, tighter cap on increased spending in the future and mandate a no-growth budget for the next two-year budget cycle.

Buckley argued that doesn’t fix the problem. She called for a complete overhaul of how the state funds services saying government should run like a business.

“I think we need to run our state differently,” she said. “We need to overhaul our entire financial structure which was meant for a much smaller state decades ago,” she said.

“We need to prioritize where we want to improve and do so in a slow methodical way and, at the same time, build an endowed rainy day fund so that we do not ever have to take such drastic measures as we are now doing when the economy takes a nose dive.

“I don’t ever want to do this again,” she said of the repeated cycle of budget crises.

The Legislature convenes at 9 a.m. today.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.