The chancellor is falling right into the governor’s trap
For the Appeal
Whether by accident or design, Gov. Jim Gibbons appears to have set a trap for University Chancellor Jim Rogers, who has apparently taken the bait hook, line and sinker.
It all started a few short weeks ago, when the governor instructed all state government departments – other than the politically sacrosanct K-12 and prison departments – to prepare for possible budget cuts of 5 percent due to falling tax collections. This was nothing short of fiscal responsibility.
But Rogers called on the governor to raise taxes instead. However, Gibbons ran for governor promising not to do any such thing. Period. And a majority of voters, knowing full well that Gibbons would not raise taxes, elected him governor. It would be political suicide to break that pledge now. Just ask George Bush the Elder. So tax hikes requiring the governor’s signature are off the table. Period.
Anyway, Gibbons’ request for recommendations for a 5 percent cut was followed a couple weeks later by asking for even higher cuts – 8 percent – while exempting two additional politically sensitive departments, juvenile justice and child welfare. From a practical standpoint, those exemptions are unfortunate. There’s “fat” to go around in EVERY department. But politically those exemptions mute what would normally be the most vocal of spending reduction opponents. It also takes away the most effective anti-cut soundbites by the bleeding-heart “for the children” crowd.
And while I have no idea whatsoever if this is how things will play out in January when the actual spending cuts are announced, if the overall cuts ordered by the governor come in at the original 5 percent level instead of the 8 percent level, the governor will come out on top in the court of public opinion.
When it was only the 5 percent cut on the table, the 5 percent cut seemed extreme. Now if the cuts come in at 5 percent, they’ll seem “moderate” compared to how “draconian” they could have been at 8 percent.
And where’s all this leave University Chancellor Rogers, the most vocal critic of the governor’s spending reduction plan?
Well, he continued with his major league hissy fit and refused to submit the spending reduction recommendations requested by the governor. Which won’t stop the cuts. It just means the governor can and will now cut where he sees fit.
And when people affected by those cuts at the university level start squealing like stuck pigs, the governor is going to be able to say, “Hey, I asked the chancellor to make recommendations, but he refused. So if you got hit worse than you think you should have, blame him, not me.”
You may recall that during the gubernatorial campaign last year, Chancellor Rogers publicly stated that he didn’t think Jim Gibbons was very smart. That assessment might be coming back to bite him.
Indeed, Gibbons could end up coming out of this looking dumb as a fox. And the highly intelligent Jim Rogers could end up sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on. Class dismissed.
• 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 http://www.muthstruths.com.