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In Depth, Right-Thinking Post-SOTS Analysis

They said it couldn’t be done. Indeed, they were saying it throughout the campaign season. No way, no how could you balance Nevada’s budget without tax hikes. But as the saying goes, those who say something can’t be done ought to get out of the way of those who are doing it.

Last night, Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed a balanced budget without tax or fee hikes. Turns out it can be done after all.

Which reminds me. The Left has been telling us – not for months, but years – that Nevada’s tax system is broken and needs to be restructured. Really? Apparently not. Because the governor just balanced Nevada’s budget in the middle of the worst recession of all time with existing tax revenue coming from existing tax sources while retaining vital, essential services.

So why do we need to “broaden” our tax base again?

If I have to take issue with anything the governor said last night, it would be this line: “These initiatives, and the overall approach we took to balancing the budget, are not about being liberal or conservative.”

Au contraire. I appreciate the fact that the governor was just trying to be polite and non-partisan in a room full of liberal partisans from the other team, but his budget plan and approach is absolutely about being conservative. It is anything but liberal.

Since most of the government’s budget is tied up in personnel costs, the only way to reduce the budget is to reduce personnel costs. Duh. And that means either layoffs or salary reductions.

As someone who wants to shrink government, I’d have preferred laying off non-essential workers. I mean, if they’re non-essential, why retain them, even at a reduced salary? Instead, Gov. Sandoval has determined that the current size of Nevada’s government and workforce are about right. Therefore, he proposes keeping the present-sized government but at a lower cost by reducing government employee salaries by 5 percent instead of continuing the stupid furlough program the Legislature approved two years ago.

Government workers will complain, naturally. But in this economy, maybe they should be a little more grateful instead of hateful. With Nevada suffering a 15 percent unemployment rate (higher if you count the under-employed and the hopeless) as it is, the odds of a government worker finding a good-paying cushy job commensurate with the one they presently have is pretty slim.

And truth be told, they never should have gotten that 4 percent “cost of living” raise back in 2008 as the Great Recession was heating up.

Perhaps government employees should show taxpayers a little more gratitude and a lot less attitude.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Ed Vogel writes this morning about “big spending cuts” if the governor’s budget is approved. I guess it depends on your definition of “big,” because the governor’s proposed budget is only $402 million less than the current budget rather than the $1.1 billion reduction everyone was predicting. That’s a reduction of just 6.44 percent.

I’m betting quite a few Nevada families have taken a MUCH BIGGER percentage hit in their own budgets.

Naturally, the big-government crowd on the Left is wailing about cuts, even minimal, to higher education. But at a campus meeting held at the same time the governor was outlining his austere budget proposal, UNLV’s College Republicans report that “UNLV’s Student Government (CSUN) voted to spend $70,000 in student fees on a yet-to-be determined concert with unnamed artists, unfound sponsors, and rough estimates of total costs amounting to $290,000.”

Irresponsibly squandering student fees while facing tuition increases? What does CSUN think it is; the Nevada Legislature? This is a clear and unmistakable sign that Dina Titus is definitely back teaching at UNLV!

The fact that federal “stimulus” money was used to plug budget overspending in 2009 was raised in the governor’s speech. Remember, that money was called “stimulus.” As such, the manner in which it was spent was supposed to “stimulate” Nevada’s economy. Instead, our overspending deficit is higher now than before we got the “stimulus” money, as is unemployment.

Either (a) somebody is using a warped definition of “stimulus,” or (b) Harry Reid/Barack Obama’s “stimulus” program was a complete failure, or (c) the 2009 Legislature used the “stimulus” money in stupid, foolish, counter-productive ways. The correct answer, of course, is “all of the above.”

Gov. Sandoval NAILED it in declaring that “Our education system is broken.” Not “broke.” Broken. Money won’t fix what ails it.

Ending teacher tenure will help. Ending social promotions will help. Putting the superintendent of public education under the governor’s office to assure better accountability will help. VOUCHERS would definitely help. And letting local school districts decide for themselves if they want to keep the horribly expensive and minimally effective class-size reduction and full-day kindergarten programs will help.

But I still say banning the teachers union for at least 25 years would be the best option.

Delen Goldberg of the Las Vegas Sun asked me a really interesting question after the Governor’s State of the State speech last night: If you were a teacher, how would you rate the governor’s proposals? My response: If I’m a teacher truly interested in improving education with the students’ best interests in mind, I’d give him a 10. If I’m a teachers union official who really doesn’t give a damn about kids, I’d give him a zero.

For the last few years, when the Left kept saying we had already cut the budget to the bone and there was nothing left but “essential” services and programs, I could always point to the Department of Cultural Affairs, which clearly doesn’t provide an “essential” service. It provides a “nice to have” service, but not a “must have” service. And if Gov. Sandoval’s proposal is enacted, DCA will be eliminated, with its various parts assigned to other departments of the government where they could be retained or phased out. Looks like we’re starting to get serious.

The Left also continually trots out Armageddon-like scenarios of folks who will be “devastated” by budget cuts in Health and Human Services. But those scare-tactic claims have been shot down pretty effectively this time around. From today’s LVRJ:

“…Department of Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden said he still must cut his costs by $277 million, particularly in mental health programs and in a program to help autistic children. ‘There isn’t enough money to go around, but it doesn’t mean these people won’t be receiving services,’ he said.

“Willden said typically there are five or six programs available for the mentally ill and three for autistic children. While they might lose one program, the others still will be available to them. He also insisted the elimination of some programs will not lead to more mentally ill, homeless people on the streets. The homeless problem might increase because of the poor economy or other factors but not because of the elimination of social service programs, he said.”

So much for the Chicken Little argument.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, proprietor of taxpayer-funded Johnny O’s Fitness Club & Conference Center in the legislative building, delivered a truly lame response from the Democrats after the governor’s speech. As political strategist Robert Uithoven put it on Twitter, it looked like “a home video pitch for jr high school class prez. This is worse than embarrassing.”

Perhaps Johnny O should have just stayed in his gym and left the public speaking to someone with some public speaking ability.

As Mark Ciavola of Right Pride pointed out in a news release this morning, “Sandoval outlined cuts to higher education amounting to ‘less than 7%.’ … In his response to Sandoval’s address, Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera stated that ‘some say the true impact is 36% or more.’”

“Some” say? Who are these “some,” Mr. Speaker? And how did they arrive at this 36 percent figure? Did they use public school math or real math? Inquiring minds wanna know.

By the way, once again Right Pride, an organization of gay Republicans, is the ONLY Republican organization to have issued a press release or statement supporting Gov. Sandoval’s speech, budget, economic development plans and education reform proposals. THE-ONLY-ONE. Maybe we need to get some milk cartons printed up in hopes of finding the Republican Party in Nevada?

UNLV President Neal Smatresk says the proposed budget cuts to higher education cannot be made up by increasing tuition to levels charged in other neighboring states. He told the LVRJ that the proposed cuts “will assure that not every Nevadan who wants to can get into higher education.”

Then again, when you look at the high level of remedial coursework required from many college freshmen, it sure looks like not every Nevadan who wants to get into college should. In the immortal words of Judge Elihu Smails, “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”

After the SOTS speech, Johnny O “said the Legislature might seek to increase taxes against Sandoval’s will.” And as Steve Sebelius wrote, “It’s clear Democrats disagree with Sandoval’s approach, and will write an alternative budget – likely one that includes some taxes.”

Again, I can’t stress this point enough: Jonny O & the Democrats can NOT increase taxes this legislative session without at least five Republican votes – three in the Senate and two in the Assembly.

Why, oh why, haven’t all 26 elected GOP legislators announced their firm, unwavering support for their Republican governor’s position of balancing the budget without any tax or fee hikes? The minute they make such a pronouncement as a voting bloc, Johnny O’s hopes and dreams of shoving another tax hike up our collective wazoos goes away.

What in the world are these wishy-washy, namby-pamby, Gumby Republicans waiting for? Are they with Gov. Sandoval or against him?

The embarrassing, perhaps shameful truth is, we don’t know. In fact, Republican Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea told the Reno Gazette-Journal that “the proof is in the pudding, the fine details. We’ll just have to see how far-reaching those impacts are, what those cuts are. At this point, our caucus is committed to working with him (Sandoval). Let’s get started and see what it really looks like.”

What it looks like is the Republican leader in the Assembly is preparing to stab the Republican governor in the back. This is what passes for GOP “leadership” in the Assembly caucus? Do the rest of the GOP members agree with Goicoechea that they’re going to wait to see if they want to throw Sandoval under the bus? And these people wonder why they’re in the minority?

In conclusion, I give the governor an “A” on this speech for substance and a “B” on delivery. Here’s what I told the Sun:

“I thought it was an excellent speech. If he follows through and sticks it out, and if the Republicans in the Legislature back him up, he’s laid out a very conservative agenda for the state. … He said our education system is broken, not broke. That shows he’s been paying attention to us. The only thing that I thought was missing was an acknowledgement that there is a government regulatory regime in place that hinders business growth and start-up. I would have liked to have seen that addressed.”

Yes, the governor acknowledged the problem, but he didn’t volunteer a solution. We need one. Fast.

On a completely unrelated matter, why isn’t Danny Tarkanian running for mayor of Las Vegas? With three high-profile Democrats in the race, and no high-profile Republicans, he might have a shot. Plus, he’d also get to boss his city councilwoman mom around…when she lets him, that is.