Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gibbons vs. Everyone

Apparently, "Luv-Guv" Gibbons is now a party of one.

For all their differences over cuts and fees, Nevada’s Legislature has found an unlikely unifying force: Gov. Jim Gibbons. [...]

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said Gibbons had “crossed the line” with his remarks. “We rally as a team of senators, no matter what party you are from, when one of our folks is attacked. We are here to work together and not have those kind of disagreements.”

Lawmakers seemed to send that message Wednesday by passing a bill that would allow Nevada to apply for federal Race to the Top education money. They did so unanimously in the Assembly and by a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

The governor’s spokesman Dan Burns said Gibbons would veto the bill. [...]

“He’s running against the establishment even though he’s at the head of that establishment,” said Eric Herzik, head of the political science department at UNR. “Jim Gibbons seems to be his own party these days.”

So even though Gibbons himself amended his proclamation for the special session to include "Race to the Top" eligibility, he will still veto the bill because the Legislature's preferred language isn't exactly his. Klassy.

So what's making all this worse for Gibbons? He's taking on the "Master of the (State) Senate".

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, lashed out at Gov. Jim Gibbons on Wednesday, widening a political fissure between the Legislature and the administration as lawmakers meet in special session to try to fill a nearly $900 million budget hole.

In a statement read on the Senate floor, the longtime lawmaker accused Gibbons, a Reno Republican, of having "failing memory," being "misinformed," or "intentionally distorting the facts." Raggio was responding to a newspaper article in Wednesday's Reno Gazette-Journal in which Gibbons said Raggio didn't "show up" at most budget meetings held in the weeks leading up to the special session that started Tuesday in Carson City.

Raggio said he attended at least eight meetings, and the governor was present at two.

"I don't know why he wants to pick a fight with me, unless it's for political reasons because I am supporting his primary opponent," Raggio, who's served in the Senate since 1973, said in his statement.

Asked afterward if he respects the governor, Raggio told reporters, "I respect the office, always will."

So Bill Raggio was attacked by Gibbons, and all the legislators (including the Republicans!) have declared open war on him. This really looks to be the next phase of "The Great Nevada GOP Civil War of 2010".

And after all, this special session is turning out to be just as much (if not more) about 2010 electoral politics as it is about balancing the budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal biennium. No really, think about it. Gibbons has used this all along as a "Reelect Gibbons 2010" campaign infomercial aimed directly at the teabaggers he needs to survive the June primary. Brian Sandoval has become involved, even though he's neither a legislator nor in the Gibbons Administration... And it seems the Raggio vs. Gibbons flame war is a proxy for the greater primary challenge.

And of course, there's also politicking on the Democratic side. Some legislators are afraid of the "no new taxes" boogeymen, while others are taking heed of what the progressive base has been trying to tell them all along.

Oh, and did I mention a plan is now emerging from the Nevada Legislature?

Among their goals was to reduce Gibbons’ cuts in K-12 education by half and restore $50 million to health care and social services. Although closed-door negotiations continued late Wednesday, parts of the Democrats’ plan emerged, signaling the Legislature will have to raise millions of dollars more than Gibbons had proposed in fees to close the $887 million deficit.

In a moment of political theater, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, called for members to raise their hands if they wanted to reduce the cut in state funding for K-12 from 10 percent to 5 percent.

“If we’re not reaching an agreement privately, we have no choice but to ask folks where they stand here,” Buckley said. “I don’t mean to put anyone on the spot. But we need to move on. We need to balance the budget.”

All the Democrats voted in favor, and none of the 14 Republicans raised their hands.

The smaller cuts in school budgets will likely force legislators to find $87.5 million in revenue or additional trims. [...]

Democrats have discussed raising $50 million from mining, $64 million from gaming and $8.5 million from higher business license fees. But so far, the cuts they have publicly proposed to undo would outstrip that revenue.

Other parts of the emerging plan include:

• $8.5 million in fee increases for businesses. Secretary of State Ross Miller justified the increase by saying that because of increased responsibilities, layoffs and furloughs, wait times for business licensing spiked from an average of four days a year ago to 37 days. The head of the Nevada Registered Agent Association testified in favor of the bill.

• Scuttle some of the proposed sweeping of various accounts because of constitutional concerns.

• Restore $24.7 million in health and human services cuts.

Gibbons reduced some of the proposed cuts to the agency that drew the loudest protests. He said federal money could cover restoration of $24 million in cuts that included eliminating housing assistance for the mentally ill and mentally disabled, hiring front-line welfare workers and providing dentures for the poor and elderly.

But legislators want to restore money to care for the elderly in their homes; to eliminate a 10 percent proposed cut to Clark County child welfare; and avoid implementing increases in health insurance premiums for children of poor families.

Well, I guess all our agitating from the "wacko Commie-loving extreme left" is working. It finally looks like a comprehensive plan is emerging that won't be completely "balanced" on the backs of the working poor.

OK, so Gibbons will likely veto it? So what! Even the Republican legislators have abandoned him. Let them fight their civil war and destroy each other in the primary.

Democrats in Carson City finally look to be finding their own voices, and this is exactly what they need to do to sideline Gibbons, pass a real budget, and win the fall election.

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