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Legislature’s Kick-the-Can Budgeting Got Us into This Mess

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval has said no-new-taxes, even though he hasn’t signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. And Democrat gubernatorial candidate Rory REID has said no-new-taxes, even though he hasn’t signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Yet Carson City’s lobbying corps is threatening legislative candidates, telling them they’ll get no money for their campaigns if they sign the Pledge.

Why?

No matter which gubernatorial candidate wins in November, we’ll once again have a declared no-new-taxes chief executive. So why threaten legislative candidates who simply put in writing what both the Democrat and Republican gubernatorial candidates have committed to verbally?

Unless they have reason to believe that neither Rory REID nor Brian Sandoval’s word is any good on this issue. Do the money-peddlers know something the taxpaying citizens/voters of Nevada don’t?

Indeed, columnist Jon Ralston on Wednesday went so far as to accuse both gubernatorial candidates of “lying” about the possibility of balancing the state’s budget next year without raising taxes. Are they? If not, it’s a fair request by voters that both candidates detail exactly how they’d accomplish this task BEFORE the election in November, not after.

By the way, the generally accepted number for next year’s projected budget deficit is $3 billion. I don’t buy that number, but then again, I’m not considered part of conventional wisdom. However, it’s a fact that whatever the deficit is next year it’ll be worse than it had to be thanks to the fiscal irresponsibility of the Legislature in 2009.

As you’ll recall, instead of making the harsh budget cutting decisions back then which would have alleviated some of the pain now, irresponsible legislators – led by Democrat Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Democrat Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley – increased spending in the governor’s budget by about $1 billion.

They compounded their fiscal recklessness by raising taxes by a commensurate amount right smack dab in the middle of The Great Recession. Making matters worse, while the government programs and services they approved were permanent, most the tax hikes they voted for will expire next year unless the Legislature extends them or makes them permanent, too.

In essence, they punted on first down – and stuck the 2011 Legislature with the hard decisions the irresponsible and cowardly 2009 Legislature should have addressed. Now the pain is going to be that much more…painful.

Also, the irresponsible 2009 Legislature used one-time “stimulus” money to protect ongoing sacred cow government programs in 2009. That money won’t be available to prop up Nevada’s government spending next year, widening the deficit hole.

To his credit, only Assemblyman Ed Goedhart (R-Amargosa Valley) had both the foresight and the spine to speak up last year and warn his colleagues not to use stimulus money for ongoing programs. He was, at the time, upbraided by legislative leaders (one actually questioned his manhood) for pointing out that the emperor had no clothes. But as it turned out, Goedhart was the lone fiscal canary in this economic mine shaft.

Had the Legislature cut spending (yes, at the very least it should have repealed that 4 percent COLA pay increase government employees never should have gotten in 2008 in the first place) instead of jacking it up a billion dollars; and had it not used stimulus money to avoid making long-overdue and well-deserved cuts to non-essential government programs and services (hello, Nevada Equal Rights Commission!), next year’s new governor and Legislature wouldn’t be in such a sour fiscal pickle.

Can Nevada’s budget deficit next year, whatever it is, be filled without raising taxes? Of course it can, and of course it should (revenue neutral tax reform is a separate question). That will mean, however, that legislators and the next governor will have to accept that government can and should do less, as well as do many things it’s now doing in new, more efficient ways.

Starting with money-saving school vouchers to de-monopolize our miserably failed government-run public schools.