Two leading candidates for governor are trading shots over how best to solve the state's budget crisis.
On Wednesday, Republican Brian Sandoval said Democrat Rory Reid "abandoned the citizens of the state" by telling the Reno Gazette-Journal he preferred to discuss long-term solutions over short-term fixes for a budget shortfall approaching $1 billion.
Sandoval's attack -- his harshest criticism to date of Reid -- shows the party frontrunners won't wait for primary results to launch attacks and that the state's budget crisis will be a cornerstone of the campaign.
"It is unbelievable to me that someone who is running for governor would not have a plan to address the biggest economic crisis in the history of our state," said Sandoval, who recently published a plan he says could save more than $500 million. "I think he should specifically address this issue. I'm the only candidate who has done that."
Sandoval based his statement on a report from the Reno newspaper's coverage of an editorial board meeting in which Reid responded to a question about the short-term crisis by saying the next governor's "vision for the future" should be the priority.
"So I want to focus on that, rather than guess at ways to solve the budget shortfall as my opponents have done," Reid is quoted as saying.
Reid says Sandoval is playing politics with a tough situation that has many state workers facing pay cuts or layoffs.
"Apparently Brian Sandoval and (Governor) Jim Gibbons have gone to the same school of budget management, which is you shoot first and determine what the facts are later," Reid said.
Reid also says Sandoval was incorrect in saying that Reid's vision includes higher taxes. He went on to criticize Sandoval for offering a plan that, when hard budget numbers were released, turned out to be inadequate. Sandoval says he is revising his plan with the new information and his goal is to produce a proposal to balance the budget without layoffs or tax increases.
"His plan, which was released two weeks, ago is already 50 percent wrong," Reid said.
On Friday, the Economic Forum, a group of five business leaders who by law determine how much the state can spend, estimated revenue would fall as much as $580 million short of expenses in the state's two-year, $6.9 billion budget cycle that ends June 30, 2011. The estimate didn't include an estimated $250 million shortfall in sales taxes set aside for schools and other decreases.
Two weeks ago Sandoval presented a short-term budget solution that would cut state worker and teacher pay by 4 percent, reduce public employee benefits and divert money for class-size reduction back to the state's general fund.
Reid has long said the state's system of raising revenue and prioritizing expenses is broken and requires a long-term solution to stabilize and diversify the economy. He says in the short term he agrees with Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, that the state should seek to uncover every cent of potential revenue from unpaid taxes to unclaimed property before making more education cuts.
Neither candidate has proposed raising taxes.
The heated exchange suggests the campaign for governor has shifted.
Early on, Reid's focus was on publicizing his 30-page, long-term vision plan and a subsequent plan to improve ethics in government. Sandoval was mostly behind the scenes raising money after a few days' publicity following his official campaign announcement Sept. 16.
Recently Gibbons and Mike Montandon, another Republican candidate, released fundraising totals much lower than those of Sandoval, $900,000, and Reid, $3.3 million.
"Seeing those reports gives him (Sandoval) the confidence to go after Rory Reid now," said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
If Sandoval does establish himself as the clear Republican favorite it reduces Reid's advantage as the only Democrat in the field, Damore said.
"The luxury he might have been counting on was the Republicans shooting each other," he said. "That may not be the case now."
Democratic strategist Dan Hart says it appears Sandoval wants to attack Reid as a way to separate himself from the other two Republicans. Attacking the standard-bearer from the other party is a common tactic for candidates seeking to rise above an intra-party fray.
"I think there is a certain amount of catching up that Sandoval has to do in that regard," Hart said.
Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, says the incident probably is the first of many campaign skirmishes over the state budget, which is far and away the biggest campaign issue so far.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.