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July 22, 2014

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STATE BUDGET: ANALYSIS:

Reluctantly sharing bad news, Gibbons leaves some out

He predicts effects of tax hikes but not of slashing of services

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CATHLEEN ALLISON / NEVADA APPEAL

Nevada’s budget for the next biennium now goes to the Legislature, where Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, both Democrats, will take part in committee hearings over the next two weeks in advance of the session beginning Feb. 2.

State of the State 2009

State of the State, part 2

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  • State of the State, part 2
  • State of the State, part 3
  • State of the State, part 4
  • State of the State, part 1
  • State of the State, part 5
  • State of the State, part 6

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Gov. Jim Gibbons was understandably reluctant to deliver the bad news in his State of the State address Thursday. At moments, he was like a teenager who has tell his parents that he wrecked the family car, but puts off the task with buttery good news and pointless small talk.

So he thanked Nevada State Friends for K-9, who raised private money so state police would have drug dogs, which have already help seize plenty of cash, pot, coke, ecstasy and so on.

Perhaps the governor should have distributed the contraband to legislators to ease the pain ahead: deep cuts to education and other essential services, or tax increases, or both — in politics, always best done under the influence.

In 2007, the new Republican governor got off to a trying start, but for his first state-of-the-state address, the room was abuzz in anticipation — a new governor and a sense that great things were possible in Nevada.

The applause when Gibbons was announced this time and made his way into the well of the Assembly barely qualified as polite. Assemblyman William Horne, a Las Vegas Democrat and assistant majority whip, didn’t applaud. Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, a Reno Democrat, tapped one hand on the other as if trying out a new silent style of clapping.

And then the long windup:

For years, “Nevada has been that beacon on the hill of hope for those who wanted to work hard and prosper,” the governor said, repeating a malapropism of his. (“Beacon on a hill” is not how Ronald Reagan quoted John Winthrop. The phrase was “city upon a hill.”)

Today, not all is well in yonder beacon.

“Many of our fellow citizens are losing their homes, losing their retirement savings, and losing their ability to continue to work and prosper in our state,” Gibbons said.

New taxes, he said, would put Nevadans out of work.

“Higher taxes will just fuel the downward spiral.”

He spoke nearly 15 minutes before he got an applause line, after he began to make his case not to raise taxes, and Republicans produced a smattering of clapping.

His proposed budget would raise the hotel room tax rate in Clark and Washoe County, after voters approved doing so on a ballot advisory question. But Gibbons’ only chance of being nominated again by his party will be the perception of the Republican rank and file that he has stayed true to his anti-tax word, so there was no talk of the room tax increase in the speech.

So, as far as you know, no new taxes.

And, Gibbons said, he “refused to balance this budget on the backs of those in our society who can least afford to shoulder the burden.”

Indeed, as Gibbons explained, the budget for Nevada’s most vulnerable citizens was often spared deep cuts, though he didn’t mention that hospitals will take another 5 percent cut on their Medicaid patients after last year’s 5 percent, or the ceiling and waiting list for a health insurance program for poor kids.

The governor did finally deliver some bad news — teachers and state employees must take a “temporary” 6 percent pay cut. He made sure to point out the joylessness of the task of proposing these savings — twice — which is likely small comfort for beleaguered teachers.

In the end, the speech, much like the budget itself, seemed quite reasonable. A recession is no time for a tax increase. Sure, some will have to take a pay cut, but times are tough.

For this achievement, the governor owed thanks to his hardworking aides, among them Budget Director Andrew Clinger and Chief of Staff Josh Hicks. Clinger’s name got the loudest applause of the night — the poorly kept secret in Carson City of late has been that Gibbons was nowhere to be found during budget deliberations.

Gibbons ended the speech with a rallying cry for turning Nevada into a renewable energy center.

But he never said how he was going to pay for it and was vague in a news conference later.

As Democratic Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said after the speech, “What I found most interesting is what he didn’t say.”

Indeed, here’s what the governor said — and this is just about all he said — about Nevada’s universities: “We had to reduce state funding for Nevada state higher education.”

Indeed, his budget would reduce higher education funding by 36 percent.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, a Las Vegas Democrat, said her fiscal staff estimated the cuts to UNLV and UNR would approach 50 percent because cuts to the community colleges would be smaller.

And there’s your bad news, though you didn’t hear it from the governor.

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