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September 22, 2014

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Reid, Sandoval aren’t being honest about budget

Is it better to have released a plan, fatally flawed though it may be, than to never have released a plan at all?

That is the question we are left with after Thursday’s release of “Moving Nevada Forward,” gubernatorial hopeful Rory Reid’s 12-page (with footnotes), $2.5 billion solution to the greatest state budget crisis in history.

That’s all it takes: 12 pages and, voilà, problem solved. I can hear Brian Sandoval next: I can name that budget fix in nine pages!

Sandoval put out a statement after the release of Reid’s plan — which can be found on my blog at tinyurl.com/3a7fntf — that said:

“Since Rory’s plan relies on $615 million in revenues which don’t exist and over half a billion in cuts which are based on faulty assumptions, it’s impossible to take this plan seriously.”

I can react to that 12-page plan in 32 grammatically incorrect words!

In this ongoing battle between The Talker and The Mute, we know who’s winning in the polls (Sandoval by a lot) and we also know who’s losing — everyone who lives here. Alas, Sandoval’s statement is mostly accurate, although the faulty assumption I had is that these two men would actually engage in a spirited debate over the state’s future. Then again, after watching the rhetorical violence of the U.S. Senate race, I have been looking for Planet Pollyanna.

Sandoval eventually will present a plan of his own, way too late in the season, just as Reid’s is way too late in the season. The main reason Reid’s plan can’t be taken seriously is he manufactures $615 million in revenue to balance what he estimates is a $2.5 billion deficit. And many of his other cost savings — call them SAGE on steroids — are highly speculative, including gaining $186 million from the federal government and “reinventing state government” that he claims will save $680 million by a 10 percent cut in how government provides services.

Yes, all budgets are based on projections and estimates. But we are back to the days before the Economic Forum mandates, when lawmakers played “If we budget it, the money will come.”

Reid’s major problem is that he can’t just say that $615 million will materialize in the second year of the biennium. Not only would that be an unprecedented infusion of revenue, but it would also have to be accepted by the state’s Economic Forum before he submits his budget — and the chances of that are about the same as Sandoval doing an unsupervised chat over at Univision’s offices.

The other stuff is smoke and mirrors, albeit leavened with an attitude that serious changes need to be made and that government indeed must be rethought if not reinvented. For this entire campaign, Reid has brought an earnestness and eagerness to embrace ideas that are both commendable and unusual, although his “plans” have been heavy on rhetoric and light on reality.

I know — welcome to campaign season. I know — welcome to how an underdog behaves. And I know — at least he’s talking, unlike his opponent.

But what is most bothersome about Reid’s document is that it perpetuates the big lie that he and Sandoval have conspired to repeat, thus forfeiting the right to be called a leader in the state’s time of need. To avoid the central question about the budget during the campaign and then try to pass something realistic and substantive in a 120-day window is impossible and consigns 2011 to being a disaster before it begins.

This is a math problem, folks. For those who hated algebra, prepare to wince: You can change the variables to make the numbers work, but you can’t make both sides balance without a plus sign somewhere.

Don’t believe me: No one who really understands the state budget — past and current budget directors, knowledgeable lawmakers and private sector fiscal mavens — believes it can be balanced with cuts alone.

Here’s what fiscal guru Guy Hobbs, who is one of a handful of people in this state who really understands what’s in the state budget, said Wednesday on “Face to Face” when I asked him about balancing the budget with cuts alone:

“If you talk about getting the fat off the bone, you got the fat, you got the muscle and you’re chipping away at bone right now. Essentially, cutting $3 billion from the state budget ... you’ve heard this comparison before ... if you funded just education alone, you could fund nothing else in the state budget.”

Read it and weep.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, during Sunday’s debate, Reid turned to Sandoval and asked, “Brian, what do you say we start telling people the truth?”

Betting line starts at 2.5 billion to 1.

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