GOP legislators in hot seat as budget vote looms

CARSON CITY -- Depending on your viewpoint, the 10 or so Republicans who this weekend will vote against reauthorizing the $620 million in taxes that are part of Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget plan are either heroes or villains.

They are heroes to those who insist legislators honor their no-new-taxes pledge, regardless of the May 26 Nevada Supreme Court decision that forced Sandoval to remove $657 million in local and school district funds from his proposed budget. They are heroes to those who believe Nevada's fragile economic recovery would be derailed by any and all taxes.

But they are villains to those who believe in the art of compromise. And they are villains to those who believe the governor's initial spending plan would have unnecessarily devastated higher education, the public schools and social programs for the mentally ill, the elderly and the poor.

As it stands now, six of the 10 Senate Republicans and at least four of the 16 Assembly Republicans plan to defy Sandoval and reject reauthorizing sales, business and car registration taxes that expire June 30. These taxes are needed to provide the revenue he needs for his compromise $6.2 billion spending plan.

According to legislators and observers, Senate Republicans Barbara Cegavske, Elizabeth Halseth and Michael Roberson, all of Las Vegas, with James Settelmeyer of Minden, Don Gustavson of Sparks and Greg Brower of Reno will vote against the tax plan needed to balance the budget.

In the Assembly, Republicans Richard McArthur and John Hambrick, both of Las Vegas, John Ellison of Elko and Ed Goedhart of Amargosa Valley probably will oppose the tax plan.

Even with their no votes, the tax plan is expected to pass the Senate 15-6 and the Assembly 38-4.

That vote could come as early as today. The Legislature must adjourn by 1 a.m. Tuesday.

"I'm a no vote," Hambrick said Friday. "I promised my voters to oppose taxes."

Goedhart said he made and will keep the same pledge.

Roberson agreed. "I have great respect for the governor," he said. "This is just a policy difference."

Roberson, a lawyer, said the Supreme Court ruled that just $62 million in local revenue had to be pulled from the budget, not all $657 million in local and school funds that Sandoval removed from his spending plan after negotiations with legislative leaders.

"We have to answer to our caucus, but we also have to answer to the people who elected us," he said. "I absolutely believe I can maintain my promise not to raise taxes. And I absolutely respect the governor and the people who disagree."

Hambrick admitted he would like to lead Republicans in the Assembly next session. Though he won't support Sandoval now, that doesn't mean he doesn't respect the governor and won't work with him in the future, he said.

Sandoval has told some Republicans that he understands why they cannot support taxes, Hambrick said. If they do, then they risk drawing primary opponents next year who will tell everyone of their yes vote on taxes.

After the 2003 legislative session in which taxes were raised by $833 million, two Republicans who voted yes on taxes lost re-election bids. No Democrats who voted for taxes were defeated.

Conservative political columnist and consultant Chuck Muth on Friday vowed to mount primary challenges against Republicans who support the budget plan.

"I may not be successful, but I can make their lives miserable," he said.

In his latest column, Muth ridicules the compromise Sandoval negotiated with Democrats:

"The Grand Compromise, described as 'groundbreaking' and 'historic,' was nothing more than business as usual. The Democrats got what they wanted, while Republicans got little more than table scraps. Yum."

On the other hand, Fred Lokken, a political science and Web college professor at Truckee Meadows College in Reno, views Republicans who won't support Sandoval's compromise as kids on a playground.

"It's like they are the kid who loses one of his marbles so goes home sulking," he said. "There is this notion you have to get everything or you lose. The governor recognized you have to change to changing circumstances. But there is a culture of fear in the party. They are afraid Chuck Muth will defeat them at the polls."

Review-Journal reporter Laura Myers contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.