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March 3, 2015

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Gov. Brian Sandoval’s quest: Blocking a tax hike

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

To the delight of fiscal conservatives across the state, Jim Gibbons swept into the governor’s office four years ago. It was the culmination of an anti-tax crusade he had waged throughout his political career.

He had signed a no-new-tax pledge, spearheaded a constitutional amendment making it more difficult for the Legislature to increase taxes and had a lengthy record voting against taxes in Congress.

Despite Gibbons’ bona fides as an anti-tax governor, the state saw a record tax increase during his single term in office — an increase Gibbons was either powerless to stop or did little to prevent, depending on who tells the story.

Enter Gov. Brian Sandoval, by reputation a moderate Republican on social issues and the person who as attorney general fought the legal battle to raise taxes in 2003.

In an unlikely twist, Sandoval has become a hero of anti-tax advocates.

Here’s why:

Although he has a sparse record to support his promise not to raise taxes, Sandoval has been remarkably consistent with his vow to hold the line on revenue as the state deals with its budget crisis.

Conservatives think Sandoval is better positioned and better equipped to prevent another tax increase than Gibbons ever was. Sandoval has promised to engage in negotiations to persuade lawmakers — he has long-standing relationships with many of them — to pass his budget without a tax increase.

“Flat out, yes,” Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said when asked if Sandoval stands a better chance of preventing a tax increase than his predecessor. “Not only is he better equipped, personalitywise and negotiationwise, the numbers in the Legislature help him. And with Sen. (Bill) Raggio gone now, the governor is in a very good position.”

Democrats no longer have a veto-proof majority in the Assembly and are down one senator from 2009, when they ran roughshod over Gibbons’ budget.

The consistency of Sandoval’s anti-tax message has surprised some of his more moderate supporters, who assumed he was simply trying to get through a primary against two strongly anti-tax opponents.

But Sandoval was just as resolute after the primary, and has been since becoming governor.

Indeed, Sandoval and his team have worked to portray his antipathy toward taxes not merely as a campaign promise, but as a “deeply held belief” that raising taxes would worsen Nevada’s beleaguered economy.

That has somewhat mitigated concerns by conservatives that Sandoval’s reputation as a moderate will lead him to compromise in the heat of budget negotiations next session.

“We were waiting for that shoe to drop, especially after the Raggio experience,” said Chuck Muth, a conservative operative who works to wrangle anti-tax pledges out of the state’s elected officials.

He blames Raggio for breaking a vow he made not to raise taxes during his 2008 primary battle with conservative Sharron Angle.

Still, Sandoval faces a difficult political environment in the next session, going up against powerful lawmakers from both parties who have begun to line up behind the idea that additional revenue will be needed to spare government services from unacceptable cuts.

“I am concerned that all those things that Gov. Sandoval has brought to the table are not enough to beat back the majorities in the Legislature, which have pretty clearly and repeatedly indicated that it is their intention to raise taxes this session,” said former state Sen. Bob Beers, who was a resolutely anti-tax lawmaker.

Those with a more charitable view of Gibbons’ administration blame lawmakers for the 2009 tax increase, not Gibbons’ refusal to fight for his budget. “I don’t think anyone thinks that it was for a lack of anything other than a lack of enough legislative muscle to defeat the override of his veto,” Beers said.

However, Sandoval’s relationship with lawmakers who hold him in higher esteem than they did Gibbons, and his willingness to engage in the horse-trading ritual with those who have priorities beyond the budget could give him just enough might to defeat an override of his promised veto on a tax increase.

“They were willing to override because they had such a lousy relationship with Gibbons,” Muth said. “I don’t think you are going to see that with Sandoval. When it comes time to overriding that veto, I’m not so sure you can count on the same people voting for a tax increase to vote for an override.”

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  1. Governance and pledges of "no new taxes"should not be confused as one and the same thing. Good government is the end and taxation is only one means to that end.

    A lot of people in the Republican Party have to wake up and focus more on governance and not the mindless "no new taxes" answer (what was the question?)

  2. The government and its functions need to be adequately funded. Rory had a plan. This guy is a flamethrower who doesn't look extreme. He has already caused taxes to rise by his intention to steal funds from basic local government thus leading to tax increases of some kind or else you may forget about local fire and police protection when those departments are gutted.

  3. State level politicians are faced with a dilemma all over the US.. This is NOT a Nevada-Only issue. The choices are simple.... RAISE REVENUE (TAXES) or CUT SERVICES - PERIOD. Most states are bound BY LAW to balance their budgets. SO, make the choice.... go to the people (especially the wealthy) and tell them that their is no choice..

    Politicians may end up out on the street but better them than whole major cities collapsing across the country. That's what's coming - and soon. AND, all these morons that believe in fiction of tax cuts RAISING REVENUE need to take a hike over to Grampy's McSame's new ranch project and ask for a job... (hint: The NEW Thunder Dome)..

  4. Lotterys have made $100 millions for other States that have used them.

    I believe the 'Large Benefit Footprint', i.e. many smaller ~$10,000 prizes would be more desirable than one huge glut of money to one person which can never be fully appreciated. Then, there would be many, many winners to publicize and more people would reap the benefits.

    Better to see 100 people get $10,000 than one person $1,000,000.

  5. guns4hire...
    you might want to at least make an effort to understand in some small measure the issue your commenting on.

    4 years of B.S. will be a tough slog.

    Does he have a string in his back that someone is in charge of pulling?
    "No taxes!"
    "Vouchers, GOOD!"
    "I'm optimistic!"
    "We all need to be paid less!"
    "I LOVE Gaming & Mining! They pull my strings!"
    "Taxes will NOT be raised!"
    "It feels GOOD to be in someone's hip-pocket!"
    "Cake for everyone!"

  6. "The liberal legislature ran roughshod over Gibbons' fiscal conservativism". I guess that about says it. Sandoval won't have as much resistance from the legislature. Sandoval sticks by his word, too, and that's refreshing.