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September 19, 2014

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Anti-tax ideology tests Republicans

GOP schism emerges over whether to compromise on fees — and principles

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Sam Morris

Republican Sens. Randolph Townsend, left, and Bill Raggio, both of Reno, confer on the first day of the special session. Townsend lamented the rift between GOP caucuses, saying those making tough choices on revenue increases “would like some support” from fellow Republicans.

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Special Session - Day 1

Senator Bill Raggio (R) talks to State Budget Director Andrew Clinger during the first day of the legislative special session Tuesday, February 23, 2010 in Carson City. Launch slideshow »

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New Taxes to Balance the Budget?

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Senate and Assembly Republicans have split over whether to raise revenue or cut deeper to close the state’s $887 million budget deficit.

As the special session began Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and his fellow Republican senators were advocating raising fees on mining and gaming companies, something both industries have signaled they are willing to accept. Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, was pushing back, a position that reflects the more conservative leanings of her caucus.

It’s a rare split for Republicans in the Legislature, where Raggio is referred to as “Sir Bill” for his mastery of the process and the expectation that his party will fall in line behind him.

“There may well be differences” between what the Senate and Assembly Republicans are pushing, Gansert acknowledged in an interview Tuesday. “Our caucus wants to cut. We want to reset the baseline budget” for the 2011 legislative session, when the state is expected to face a $2 billion deficit.

She insisted, though, that Assembly and Senate Republicans “are working together.”

Raggio’s top lieutenant, Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said: “I think there are some philosophical differences among those with R’s after their names in the two houses.”

Townsend noted that in 2003 and 2009 legislative sessions, Senate Republicans took the most heat for raising taxes. This time he would like it to be different.

“For those of us who carried the tax burden in ’03 and ’09, we would like some support,” he said. “This is not a one-man, two-man or three-man show.”

Lawmakers assume Gov. Jim Gibbons will veto parts of any package they negotiate — legislation that will likely include a mixture of cuts, budget gimmicks and fee increases.

If that happens, Democrats hold the necessary two-thirds majority in the Assembly to override a veto. They would, however, need two Republican votes in the Senate to reach two-thirds. In the view of Republican senators, that has forced them to work with Democrats toward a solution, while their Assembly counterparts have been free to take an ideological stand and criticize proposals without having to participate.

Although the governor and legislative leaders have dismissed tax increases as an option, fees are in play and have apparently become the new battleground.

It could prove a divisive issue for the Legislature’s Republicans.

Click to enlarge photo

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert talks with Assemblyman Joe Hardy before the start of the first day of the legislative special session Tuesday, February 23, 2010 in Carson City.

Gansert is often regarded as politically and philosophically aligned with Raggio. She’s the most likely candidate to fill Raggio’s Senate seat — which he has held since 1973 — when term limits force him into retirement in 2012.

But Gansert’s often unruly, anti-tax conservative caucus could put her at odds with her Senate ally. During the 2009 session, seven of the 14 Assembly Republicans formed a splinter group, called the Nevada Republican Study Committee. It was seen as a challenge of Gansert’s leadership.

Assembly Republicans are also conscious of the anti-incumbent, anti-tax fervor developing in advance of the November election.

Fewer Republicans senators are seeking re-election because of term limits and find themselves more interested in preventing deep cuts in institutions such as higher education that they helped build up during long careers.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, a member of the conservative caucus, said: “We have disagreements (with the Senate). We’re looking at different opinions about if there should be fee increases.”

Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he would support higher fees if industries “came to the state and said, ‘To protect education, the health and welfare of the state, we’ll step up.’ In my mind, that’s OK.”

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