Friday, Jan. 16, 2009 | 2:08 a.m.
Thursday night was Gov. Jim Gibbons’ opportunity to lay out his two-year vision for Nevada. The problem was that any semblance of vision was nowhere to be found in his State of the State address to lawmakers in Carson City.
In just about every category — what the state spends on education, the size of the state government’s workforce, the services the government provides its residents — Nevada ranks near or at the bottom in state-by-state comparisons.
But do such dismal rankings bother our governor? Not at all. Gibbons is obsessed with keeping his no-new-taxes pledge, which means massive reductions in spending — all so he can placate the right-wing, hate-everything base of the Republican Party that helped elect him.
If the state were simply to cover the cost of maintaining services at existing levels, it would require a two-year budget of $8.1 billion. But Gibbons will seek a budget of just slightly more than $6 billion.
The state’s contribution to public schools would be reduced 2.6 percent under Gibbons’ proposed budget, and higher education would be decimated, with a reduction of about 36 percent. Gibbons also will seek to cut by 6 percent the salaries of state workers and teachers.
Nevada’s growth certainly isn’t what it once was when it was the fastest-growing state in the nation, but the needs are still increasing and, in light of the recession, the demands being placed on government have never been greater.
Gibbons’ proposed two-year state budget shows, yet again, why he has no business being governor. That, of course, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
But having someone such as Gibbons at the helm of state government, at a time when the state is facing the kind of economic crisis not experienced since the Great Depression, is terrible. This is when we need a governor who is flexible and innovative. Instead we have a governor who is dogmatic and incapable of acknowledging that a different perspective exists and deserves to be heard.
We would be remiss if it wasn’t mentioned that Gibbons played a large role in poisoning the well when it comes to providing needed government services. During the mid-1990s, when the anti-tax hysteria was omnipresent, Gibbons orchestrated passage of an initiative that changed the Nevada Constitution, requiring a supermajority (two-thirds) vote in the Legislature to raise taxes.
Gibbons’ predecessor (and fellow Republican), Kenny Guinn, knew what it takes to be governor. Guinn was a fiscal conservative, but he understood in 2003 that the state needed to raise taxes to properly fund services and that doing so outweighed taking the politically safe course. It also should be remembered that Gibbons, at the time a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, criticized Guinn’s proposed tax increase as unnecessary.
Although Gibbons and his fellow travelers on the right wing aren’t willing to do something to reverse the state’s rudderless and backwater course, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done.
Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, and have a veto-proof majority in the Assembly. The Democrats’ majority in the Senate is slight, but there are a number of Republicans in the upper chamber who are responsible and understand that state government, our public schools and higher education can’t withstand further cuts. It will require bipartisanship that we haven’t seen in decades in Carson City for state lawmakers to cobble together a budget that actually meets the needs of Nevadans and, just as important, has enough votes to override a Gibbons veto.
Still, political pressure will be brought to bear by right-wing talk radio and conservative fringe groups to kill any attempts to overhaul or restructure our rickety tax structure, one that has no place in 21st-century Nevada.
This state is not the one that existed 100, 50 or even 10 years ago. The current tax structure simply doesn’t bring in enough revenue — and hasn’t done so for years — to provide the services that Nevadans require in today’s world.
Our elected leaders in Carson City need to stop obsessing about the next election and think about the long term. We are at a crossroad, and now is the time for bold leadership, leadership that sets aside petty partisan differences and does what’s right for Nevada — for today and for the future.