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April 18, 2014

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Guinn faces tough test in second term

CARSON CITY -- Gov. Kenny Guinn, who rolled to a landslide victory Tuesday, will likely find his second term a lot tougher than his first.

Guinn had the support of labor, state workers, schoolteachers, casinos and business in trouncing state Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, the first black candidate to advance to the finals of a Nevada gubernatorial race.

Now Guinn will have to deliver.

"The state is facing tough economic times," Guinn said Tuesday night celebrating at Caesars Palace with five other Republicans elected to the state's constitutional offices. "But this state's not blaming me for the economic situation and we will continue to take steps to put it back on track."

Guinn said Tuesday's victory represents a vote of confidence from the public given Nevada's 50-50 Democratic to Republican statewide voter registration.

"Any time you get 60 percent, that's a mandate," Guinn said.

Guinn got 68 percent of the vote to Neal's 22 percent. The governor won a majority in every county in the state.

One of Guinn's first jobs will be to persuade lawmakers to approve new or increased taxes to fill the hole in the state budget.

"Expectations have been raised. Now the question is how fully and quickly can he meet those expectations," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"The governor has done a phenomenal job of getting the people together so far. Now we will see if all the people stay on board."

If taxes are raised, teachers, state workers and university professors will be seeking a piece of that pie.

"Somebody will walk away from the table unhappy," Herzik said.

Yucca Mountain will pose a nagging question for Guinn as the fight over the proposed nuclear waste dump makes its way through the courts. Guinn has strongly opposed a nuclear dump -- but the final ruling could come on his shift.

And Guinn is expected to have a hard time campaigning for President Bush in 2004 as opponents will raise the issue that the Republican president signed the approval for the dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Guinn said his priority will be to lay out a budget plan to raise $450 million to $500 million in new taxes over the next biennium.

Neal will remain a member of the Senate, pushing his primary agenda of seeking an increase in casino taxes.

"It's going to be difficult," Neal said, adding that the state will need about $800 million during the biennium to cover a shortfall in revenue. "It will be crunch time."

Neal said any tax plan that is approved must include an increase on gaming revenue taxes.

"If it doesn't, the voters will be highly teed off and there will be a lot of legislators in 2003 who won't be around in 2005," Neal said.

Guinn has spent most of his time in the last six months in Clark County, raising money and campaigning in the area. But now his base will shift to Carson City, where he will work out details of his financial plan.

Because of the sluggish economy, Guinn said his top concern is getting the state through the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Besides a tax plan, Guinn wants to tap the state's $136 million "rainy day" fund for at least $110 million to help pay the state's bills.

Guinn will have a Republican Senate and a Democratic Assembly to contend with -- the same as he has had in the past two Legislatures.

Other issues on the front burner for Guinn include medical malpractice, construction defects and the possible takeover of Nevada Power Co. by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Herzik said Guinn's major political problems probably will come during the 2005 Legislature, when he will be considered a lame duck. Democrats interested in succeeding Guinn will try to make a name for themselves in advance of 2006.

Also garnering votes Tuesday were Libertarian Dick Geyer with 1.6 percent, Independent American David Holmgren with 1.4 percent, Green Party candidate Charles Law with 1 percent and Independent Jerry Norton with 1 percent.

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