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December 22, 2014

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Sandoval paying political price for breaking pledge to not raise taxes

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AP Photo/Lisa J. Tolda

Gov. Brian Sandoval, right, is joined by legislative leaders Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas to announce a budget agreement Wednesday, June 1, 2011, at the Nevada Legislative Building in Carson City.

Governor Sandoval Interview

Governor Brian Sandoval says he's proud of Nevada for reaching a compromise on the budget. Why did it take a Supreme Court ruling to force the Governor into negotiations? And what does he say to critics who claim he's forgotten his no new taxes pledge? And to those who say he's forsaken the state's most vulnerable citizens? We'll ask him next in this exclusive interview.

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Sun Coverage

When then-candidate Brian Sandoval was asked for the umpteenth time about raising taxes during a Republican gubernatorial debate in April 2010, he was prepared with his answer.

He told the conservative Reno crowd: “I’ve said very specifically, I’ll not be raising any taxes. I’ll be vetoing any tax.”

Asked further about tax increases passed by lawmakers in 2009 and scheduled to expire or sunset on June 30 this year, Sandoval had a ready answer.

Sunset “is a beautiful word,” he said. “I look forward to saying goodbye.”

After striking a budget deal with Democrats that includes extending some of those tax increases, the decision to break those campaign promises is a blemish on the governor’s record.

Many will see his policy as a reasonable response to difficult circumstances. Yet he broke his word to get there.

This was a corner Sandoval painted himself into, against the wisdom of those who actually know the budget. In the Republican primary, his vow allowed him to be as conservative as the incumbent he was challenging, Gov. Jim Gibbons.

In the general election he stood firm. “I’ve made a commitment that any tax increase, I’m going to veto. It’s the worst thing we could do,” Sandoval said during a debate with his opponent, Democrat Rory Reid, a few days before the election. “We have an amount of money to spend. That’s it.”

After the election, and he had begun assembling his budget, Sandoval remained resolute in his promise to never, under any circumstance, sign a tax increase.

The governor declined a request for an interview for this story. But he and his staff cited the Nevada Supreme Court decision, handed down May 26, which raised the possibility some of the revenue transfers from local government that he had proposed were unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court decision was a game changer,” Sandoval said on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” last week. “It changed the entire dynamic with regard to the budget. How we budget now, how we budget in the future. I had to respond to that as governor of the state.”

Sandoval’s reversal broke a legislative stalemate. When he announced the budget agreement, he was flanked by legislative leadership and about 40 lawmakers. All were smiling.

That’s the difference between campaigning and governing. Campaign statements are simple things. They don’t require nuance or compromise. And they don’t come with asterisks that say “unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise.”

After Sandoval indicated he would support tax increases, he succeeded in placating conservatives for a time as he worked on a compromise with legislative leaders. But once the deal was announced, the backlash was quick and fierce.

As Sandoval announced the budget deal, Americans for Prosperity unleashed a robocall slamming him: “He promised us he would balance the budget without new taxes, and not only is he going back on his word, now he is leading the charge for more spending.”

Tea Party groups sprung into action, calling on members to contact lawmakers, urging them to oppose the deal. Republican committee chairmen in Elko and Churchill counties signed a letter opposing the budget deal. “Conservatives are feeling just a little duped, and extremely disappointed,” they wrote.

•••

When Sandoval left the federal bench in September 2009 to run for governor, his early statements about taxes were cautious. He promised not to raise taxes, but refused to sign a pledge to that effect, saying he didn’t want to tie his hands.

In a radio ad, he promised to oppose a “corporate income tax” — something no one had proposed.

A turning point came in April 2010, when Sandoval went on a radio show hosted by then-first lady Dawn Gibbons.

“Is there any situation in which you would consider raising taxes?” Gibbons said.

Sandoval: “No.”

The Sun, at the time, asked Sandoval to expand on this position.

The campaign issued a statement: “I do not believe in raising taxes.”

Then during the 2010 special session, Gov. Gibbons helped broker a budget deal that raised fees on mining and other businesses. Sandoval attacked, calling it the “liberal” approach. Sandoval had won the trust of the most fiscally conservative elements in the Republican Party.

•••

The Republicans who plan to vote against the budget agreement, many of whom have signed no-new-tax pledges, said voters would revolt if they broke their promises.

“The people in my district would not be happy if I voted yes,” Assemblyman Richard McArthur, R-Las Vegas, said. “But I guess it depends on your district.”

Sandoval will “probably take a little bit of a hit” from voters, McArthur acknowledged.

But Sandoval isn’t the only Republican who is reversing himself: The entire Republican caucus in the Senate signed a letter stating their opposition to extending the 2009 tax increases. At least some are expected to vote for the deal now.

“We seek to make it clear to those who negotiate and advocate for tax increases this session, whether those increases be new or an extension of the 2009 taxes set to sunset this year, that we remain firm in our opposition.”

Asked about the letter, Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, used the same argument as the Sandoval administration: The Supreme Court decision changed everything.

(McGinness wouldn’t say whether he would vote for the budget deal he helped broker.)

Adam Stryker, Nevada director of Americans for Prosperity, said his membership feels it “got stabbed in the back on this one.”

“They want (the lawmakers) to know there are ramifications for their vote,” he said.

But Stryker doubts Sandoval will suffer much politically for breaking his promise.

“He doesn’t have to run again until 2014,” Stryker said. “The economy will have improved by then. And he’ll be seen as showing true leadership in pulling both sides together.”

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  1. Continuing with taxes at the same level as last year is NOT raising taxes or creating new ones. This statement is true by the logic of the words. New taxes mean "taxes that did not exist before". If a tax existed before, they are not new.

    Americans for Prosperity insist on re-defining words for the purpose of social engineering.

  2. Brian Sandoval certainly had to have known how all this would play out, or at least that the potential was there for the Court to rule against his bizarre "I'll take THAT money! And THAT money, and...yessss! THAT money too!" plan (?) to balance the budget. Stupid he ain't, (despite the act).
    How far back do you suppose this "contingency plan" goes? I'm betting that it goes waaaay back, and that it involves the friendly folks who put the King on his Throne.
    I'm guessing that this contingency plan was part & parcel of THE PLAN.
    It would certainly explain a lot.
    No budget plan was forwarded during the election campaign, despite a million and one questions about it, and a hammering from his opponent about it; "The man has NO PLAN", as I recall, was the centerpiece of a lot of Rory's advertising. No "plan" was ever proffered.
    One could certainly postulate that "The Plan", as put forth in private by B.S.'s Kingmakers, was to use the money grab as a sort of Plan A, while understanding completely that the courts "conceivably, within the realm of statistical possibility, if not IN ALL LIKELIHOOD", would call B.S. on the B.S. plan to steal every tax-collected nickel from every pot south of Lake Tahoe, and that Plan B would B to use the whole entirety of the now Non-Sunsetting-Taxes to balance the budget. Not exactly a plan you would share publicly.

    VOILA!!!
    You have a budget where you could very disingenuously claim that the proceeds with which to pay for it were foisted upon you by events well beyond your control.
    "Well I'll be a MONKEY'S UNCLE!!! Funny how these things work out, sometimes! Well, certainly not MY fault, gang! Well, we'll accept it and move on."
    If you think all of this nonsense just "happened", without any ministrations by hands unseen, then this slick Snake Oil Salesman and his "handler's" will have served up a superbly successful scam on the State of Nevader, not unlike many politicians before him.

  3. Mr. Sandoval before being elected refused to reveal his budget ideas for Nevada. He knew if he told us he was going to rob the coffers of the counties and schools then transfer responsibility for services to those same counties he would never have been elected.

    In his case, silence was golden, it got him elected. The courts have told him now he can not rob the county and other departments to pay for his broken plan.

    With that he has to either let the 2009 taxes stay in place, that the companies paying those taxes told him they WANTED TO CONTINUE PAYING anyway or cut the services of the people he fooled into electing him.

    He is a one term governor. He has proven himself now. He finally had to reveal the facts and he can't hide any longer.

    Hopefully this next round we can find someone with a real plan to run our Great State of Nevada.

  4. If the courts had permitted the grab of local moneys, then the locals would have had to raise taxes. In either case the government continues to be severely underfunded and Nevadans continue to be dumb and kind of crude at times. Thank you Republicrats!

  5. Lottery. Solution. Now! What has a casino really done for you?

  6. I wish the Sun had a 'like' button. Sandoval did the right thing in the end though his plan to grab from one pot and his plans to make state workers pick up the tab are just taxes with other names and he should never ever had played the "no new taxes" game. And as vegaslee says, he should have been telling the voters his real plans before the election - but that is on the backs of the voters who voted for him based on slick words instead of real information.

  7. I agree with most of the comments. It had to be foolhardy to say he would never raise taxes as everyone -even me in Texas - knew how bad the Nevada Economy was. Perhaps he had some special plan and voters obviously trusted.

    He should not run for re-election.

  8. Mick asks: "What has a casino really done for you?"

    Well, the casinos employee more people then any other industry in this state. Because of all the Casinos there are also Thousands of support businesses supplying the casinos that also employee people here.

    The Casinos pay over half of all the states budget. The Casinos are the reason that 36 Million come to Las Vegas each year and spend their money. That is most of the Sales tax also paid in this state. All the room tax. The rental car taxes, she entertainment taxes.

    You know, most of the taxes in this state and money in this state are because of the CASINOS.

    The reason you pay no income tax, small property tax and have the way of life you want in the Great State of Nevada.

    If you don't believe me, deduct all the taxes the Casinos are responsible for and see what you have left. No State of Nevada.

  9. One thing is for sure, Governor Sandoval picked his battles carefully. He did not want to bring any attention to the MINING INDUSTRY during this Legislative Session, and nearly got away with it. Had MINING been paying its fair share (at least an average of what it is paying for the same product in the other 49 states to NEVADA!!!), then the landscape of Nevada's economics would be entirely different, and the good People of Nevada would NOT be suffering so.

    Nevada has a problem with archaic MINING laws. For over a century, these laws have barely been touched, in due to the population size of Nevada and lack of awareness by the public. Also, decades of "kick the political can down the road" by the good ol'boys serving without term limits, not having to account to much of anyone or anything but their own. Had MINING been addressed decades ago, we would NOT be in this mess!

    Will this lack of responsibility continue or will LAWMAKERS and Governor have the courage to do the right thing for the People that elected them?

    Now this issue comes front and center, as it is a major resource for a POSITIVE REVENUE STREAM so that the State of Nevada can function--IF the NEVADA STATE LAWMAKERS and Governor have the courage to CHANGE THE NEVADA CONSTITUTION regarding MINING EXEMPTIONS AND LOOPHOLES!!!!

    Citizens must voice their interest NOW, call, email, visit their LAWMAKERS TODAY, before June 6th when the LEGISLATIVE SESSION ENDS. Please and Thank YOU!

  10. for vegaslee: Casinos have made sure they are the only game in town which is why Nevada is in the mess it is in today. It is by design, not by circumstance. Ask the employees of the casinos while they are on the picket lines about fair treatment received at their hands. Let's get the state to bring in business with solid jobs for our citizens vice service and government jobs. Jobs where the citizens can afford to pay taxes to upgrade schools, as an example. The casinos have a strangle hold on the people of this state and that needs to change.

  11. Mr. Davis,

    Please tell me even one business or industry that the Casino Industry has stopped from coming to Las Vegas or the State of Nevada?

    Betting you can't.