Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sando's Revenge?

This morning, we talked about national "Tea Party, Inc." King Grover Norquist balking at all the Beltway chatter about Mitt Romney possibly adding Nevada's own Governor Brian Sandoval to his VP short list. Just after BuzzFeed broke the story and Ralston raised some hell on Twitter, Sandoval dropped a bomb on Carson City that is set to explode expectations for next year's legislative session.

“On Thursday, the Budget Office will be releasing budget instructions for the next biennium as we prepare for the 2013 Legislature. In order to avoid cuts to education and other essential services, revenues from the sunset taxes will need to be continued. While taking into account mandatory caseload growth, primarily in Health and Human Services, federal mandates such as the Affordable Care Act, and critical infrastructure needs, my budget instructions will call for “flat” budgets which will rely on some or all of the revenue from the sun setting taxes.

“Let me be clear, as I’ve said before, the economy is improving, but I believe we must begin this budgeting process with all the information available. In addition to avoiding further cuts to education, this decision means there will be no need for tax increases in the next session. Nevadans will pay no more than they are in the current biennium.

“The budget building process remains ongoing, but we must begin today.”

While The Sun's Anjeanette Damon noted Sandoval's grumbling about the Affordable Care Act and necessary infrastructure projects to do, I just have to say that it's quite a funny coincidence that he made this announcement today. It's also funny that this happened on the very same day that Nevada's own Harry Reid shot back at Norquist's star Capitol Hill pupils that are threatening yet another budget melee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is warning House Republicans they’ll be setting themselves up for another Tea Party-inspired government shutdown fight, unless GOP leaders buck their conservative rank and file and hew to the terms of last summer’s hard-fought debt-limit deal.

House Republicans are prepared to introduce their budget resolution next Tuesday, and some signs suggest they’ll call for cutting federal programs below the levels both parties agreed to in last August’s debt-limit fight. On Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid laid down the Democrats’ marker in no uncertain terms: Dream on, we’ll never let you buck the deal.

“This wasn’t a handshake, it was a law we passed,” Reid told reporters on Tuesday at a weekly Capitol briefing. “And now, the Republican right wing in the House is trying to change the agreement we made as a matter of law. I guess they love government shutdowns, or at least the threat of them … If they renege on the law, the agreement, they’ll be forcing yet another government shutdown and a fight with the American people. That’s ridiculous.”

Now contrast this with how REPUBLICAN state legislators here in Nevada are responding to Sandoval's surprise announcement.

“I support Gov. Sandoval and his budget instructions that will not impose new taxes on the people of Nevada,” [Senator Michael] Roberson [R-Henderson] said. “I will continue to lead the fight against new tax increases while working with Gov. Sandoval to improve public education. I will not support additional cuts to public education.”

Roberson opposed extending the sunsetting taxes in the 2011 session, arguing that the Nevada Supreme Court ruling did not create the huge financial hole in the budget that others had suggested.

“Gov. Sandoval has outlined a prudent and fiscally responsible preliminary budget framework,” Roberson said. “I am grateful for his tremendous leadership. I will stand with him and support him.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, announced his support for Sandoval’s proposal via Twitter.

“I applaud the decision by Gov. Sandoval to do what is necessary to protect education from cuts,” he said, adding that what that means in the 2013 session is yet to be determined.

I find it quite interesting that Roberson, who was once quite the "tea party darling" himself last year, is directly refuting Grover Norquist's assertion that Sandoval passed "new taxes" by merely agreeing to extend the 2009 tax deal. And I find it quite interesting that both Sandoval and Legislature Republican leaders are running away from the tactics used constantly by their counterparts in DC by settling the matter of the 2009 tax deal and making an easy 2013 budget deal more likely.

However, I suspect Brian Sandoval isn't just rebuking the radical "tea party" right in his own party in making this move. Both progressive populist Kermitt Waters and conservative "business establishment" powerhouse Monte Miller have been pushing to put tax reform on the ballot, and the Nevada AFL-CIO may soon enter the playing field with the corporate margin tax that everyone's been expecting them to put into a ballot initiative. As Sandoval's team has become more concerned about what may happen if any (or a combination) of these initiatives makes it on our ballots some time soon, as well as what may happen if Republican chances of retaking the (state) Senate continue to dwindle, this may also be Sandoval's attempt to thwart the drive by both progressive Democratic legislators and tax initiative supporters to force major tax reform next year.

So far, it sounds like Democratic Senators aren't ready to settle for the status quo.

While we applaud Republican State Senators and the Governor’s change of position to prioritize education in Nevada, we don’t believe it does enough to address the challenges that Nevada faces. These are challenging financial times and it is critical that we rise above partisanship and find solutions that place the needs of our children and families first.

Last year, Senate Democrats fought to protect education funding, believing that providing opportunity to our children must be the cornerstone of any plan to revitalize Nevada’s economy. Nevada deserves leadership that will fully fund education, while also taking on the challenge of solving our budget shortfall. Only together, can we facilitate solutions to help Nevada families and businesses succeed.

Unfortunately, by not addressing the long-term problem and clinging to stagnant levels of education funding, the Governor is only postponing the inevitable crisis that our schools and our state face.

“What we need are long term solutions to resolving our budget problems, not postponing them for another 2 years” said Senator Mo Denis. ”We must address tax fairness for middle class families, cut wasteful spending in our government, and provide Nevada business with an educated workforce that can help compete in the national and global marketplace.”

Dennis also added “In order to diversify our economy and attract new businesses and industry to Nevada, we must show them we are serious about investing in a well educated workforce. We can’t do that if education funding remains stagnant.”

And we'll have to see if Sandoval's big move will be enough to stop Monte Miller, Kermitt Waters, and the Nevada AFL-CIO from gathering signatures for their respective initiatives later this year.

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