Friday, May 20, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
In 17 days, the Legislature’s 120-day regular session will end, and at this point, it’s doubtful that lawmakers will accomplish their work.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed significant legislation, including an education budget and a plan to redraw political districts, only to see the work vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The Republican governor has taken a hard-line position on the budget and taxes — his way or no way — and that could make for a long summer.
The governor’s stance could create a budget crisis, and Sandoval has tried to force lawmakers to agree to his plans. Dale Erquiaga, Sandoval’s senior adviser, said there wouldn’t be a special session called immediately if the Legislature hasn’t wrapped up business by June 6, saying it was the Legislature’s “responsibility” to complete the work, making it seem as if lawmakers are the problem. But it takes two to tango, and the governor has refused to engage in negotiations in any serious way.
Just ask Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea. The Republican from Eureka told Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston on Wednesday that if Democrats were serious about changing collective bargaining laws, he would work on getting his caucus’ support for a plan that would leave some taxes on the books that are set to expire. Soon after Ralston reported that on the Sun’s website, Goicoechea was summoned to meet with Sandoval. After Goicoechea emerged from the governor’s woodshed, he issued a statement saying his caucus supports the governor’s position.
The tough stance may work well with the far right of the Republican Party, but it won’t work well with most voters. People want solutions, not ideological platitudes. The state is facing a budget shortfall of more than $2 billion, and Sandoval’s plan would let taxes expire and then gut state spending and services. Doing so will have serious consequences on Nevada for years to come.
For example, the Nevada System of Higher Education, which has seen cuts of nearly 20 percent in state general fund revenue over the past four years, expects to have to eliminate several academic programs and lay off hundreds of employees, including faculty and staff. That will make it more difficult for Nevada students to receive a college education.
The Clark County School District approved a plan Wednesday that would cut $407 million in the upcoming fiscal year. It includes laying off 1,834 employees and slashing spending on textbooks and supplies. There could be an additional 1,000 people laid off if district unions don’t make further concessions, school officials said. Regardless of what happens, larger class sizes and fewer opportunities for students will result.
A weakened education system will make it more difficult for the state to attract businesses. The economic situation will be further hurt as governments across Nevada are expected to make significant cuts as well, leaving more people out of work and putting a further strain on social services.
Unfortunately, Sandoval doesn’t seem to care. This really isn’t about budgets, it’s about policy. Republicans don’t want to waste the budget crisis to advance their agenda of gutting government.
Voters elected Sandoval to govern, and that requires considering what’s best for the state and working across the aisle to find solutions. If Sandoval doesn’t start governing soon, the consequences will be severe.