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September 17, 2014

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Democrats play ball on reforms, in return for leeway on taxes

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John Oceguera

Sun Coverage

Legislative Democrats have spent the first month of the session trotting out one reform proposal after another. They want to crack down on consultant contracts, shine a light on how nonprofit groups spend government money, create a forced savings account for education and change the way governors create the state budget.

They also are taking on issues that could cut at the heart of some of their constituencies: ending teacher tenure and cutting retirement benefits for state employees, for example.

Although work has begun in earnest on those topics — a number of committee hearings have been held on more than a dozen bills — Democratic leaders are holding back on the elephant in the room — taxes.

First they need to build their case.

Democrats’ overall message with these bills: We will cut spending and put state government on a more efficient footing for when the economy improves.

Their hope: Please remember this when it comes time to talk about raising taxes.

“That’s what we actually have to do,” Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said. “The public is demanding that we look at government spending, that we eliminate waste, be more accountable. And then, I think when we do those things, if there’s a need for revenue, they will say OK.”

Indeed, that’s the message that business groups representing those who would have to pay a tax increase have been pushing: dramatically change the way you spend and we might be willing to pay more.

Although Democrats are pushing some reforms that mirror what those groups have been calling for, Gov. Brian Sandoval clearly doesn’t see the debate along the same terms.

His view: The reforms are needed. Period. Don’t talk to me about taxes.

Further complicating the effort by Democrats is the fact it isn’t just Republican-leaning business groups trying to drive the debate on spending reform and taxes. Conservative activist groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the Keystone Corp., are pushing Republican lawmakers to refuse consideration of a tax increase.

Sandoval’s senior adviser likes to point out that the Democrats seem to be “following the road map” laid out by the governor in his State of the State address.

Indeed, both sides are talking about the same topics and in many cases their specific proposals mirror each other. Both sides are talking education reform, economic development and government accountability.

Both Democratic leaders and Sandoval want performance-based budgeting (their two bills are expected to look almost identical). Both sides agree on dramatically changing the way schoolteachers are evaluated. Both sides like rainy day funds.

“We’re pleased their announcements mirror the agenda the governor talked about in his State of the State,” adviser Dale Erquiaga said. “We are close enough in a number of areas that compromise is definitely possible.”

But in the view of many Republicans, the Democrats’ proposals don’t go far enough.

They don’t touch collective bargaining rights for local government employees. They aren’t strong enough on ending teacher tenure; Sandoval wants teachers to work year-to-year on annual contracts that aren’t guaranteed to be renewed.

And they don’t go into school vouchers or open enrollment, which would allow students to go to any school in the district but would be eligible for transportation only in their zone.

“They are trying to one-up the governor and say, ‘We have a better plan,’ ” Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said. “We haven’t seen all the details of their plan, but obviously the governor’s plan will be the one we’ll support.”

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  1. "We haven't seen all the details of their plan, but obviously the governor's plan will be the one we'll support." - Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness

    It is exactly this kind of blind party loyalty and ideology that the Whigs of Nevada stand against.

    Both the Democrats and the Republicans have ideas with merit, but they won't come together to choose the best from both and arrive at real solutions to our problems. This can no longer be tolerated.

    I urge you, as voters, to elect representatives who will work for the good of all Nevadans and not just that of their fellow party members.

  2. boftx--

    He really couldn't say much else in public.

    Watch how this unfolds and then judge. There is a lot going on, not only between Democrats and Republicans, but within their parties. Things are not as solid as they seem, particularly with the Republican crowd.

  3. The Governor understands the state of the economy and direction the state must take. His budget and policies will ensure the future prosperty of the state.

  4. So far I haven't seen details of Democrat proposals that would curtail actual legislative spending , only how other groups spend the money their given.

    I don't object to teachers contracts longer than one year, once they've passed a probationary period and earned them. It's tough to live year to year, although that's what most folks do. Few of us have contracts guaranteeing employment beyond today. Tenure, lifetime tenure however has to go. All teachers should be required to undergo at least annual unannounced in classroom teacher evaluations by professional evaluators and annual performance based evaluations. I have been a teacher and experienced this system each year and found it useful, productive and honest. No one should be guaranteed a job for life regardless of performance at tax payers, parents, students and societies expense.

    Spending is the problem. No tax increases until spending is cut to the states proper role, the fat is trimmed, state government is reasonably efficient and it is proven additional revenue is absolutely necessary to balance the budget.

  5. "We haven't seen all the details of their plan, but obviously the governor's plan will be the one we'll support." - Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness

    Seriously? So it doesnt even matter what they do because no matter what you will not support it. Great work.

  6. The cuts on the budgets of prisons, schools, the environment, safety, etc. should be opposed in the courts. That will tie them up in the courts while costing the State money to defend them.

  7. Agree with mred...

    Some of the proposed cuts are CRIMINAL.

    Year-to-year Teacher contracts???
    Can you say "Bye bye, Bri???"

    fearNloathing sez...
    "Nevadans would be well served by a legislature that fixes what is fixable and does so within the constraints of existing standards, and then, upon realizing economic stability, this governing body can prudently permeate the systematic overhaul when it is a bit more palatable."

    Our Nation would do well to heed that advice as well...
    reinventing the wheel AND balancing busted budgets concurrently is onerous, and pie in the sky.