Sandoval's first veto knocks down school reserve bill

CARSON CITY -- The stalemate begins.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval issued his first veto Monday over Assembly Bill 183, a Democrat-sponsored measure to increase spending on school maintenance and construction.

The veto was Sandoval's first chance to back his anti-tax campaign promises with gubernatorial action by kicking back to the Legislature a bill he said would have blown a $301 million hole in his budget.

Sandoval's move also reminded Democrats that their efforts to persuade Republican lawmakers to break away from the governor have so far been unsuccessful.

It's likely to be the first of many clashes to come over taxes and spending as Democratic lawmakers seek a hammer that can break through Sandoval's proposed $5.8 billion spending ceiling for 2011-13.

The school bill by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, was merely the first attempt.

The bill would have allowed school districts to shift some of the money they hold in bond reserves into building construction and maintenance.

Supporters argued the measure would create construction jobs as well as help schools complete projects that would make buildings safer and more functional.

The problem is the bill came after Sandoval had already included in his budget a proposal to shift the same bond reserves into school operations, prompting Republicans to say Democrats were more interested in undermining the proposed budget and forcing a tax increase than they were in helping schools.

Democrats fought back by holding hearings on the bill in Reno, where the Washoe County School District wants to repair decrepit buildings.

They hoped testimony from school officials, teachers and parents would change Sandoval's mind, or at least prompt some Republicans to waver.

In his veto message Sandoval acknowledged the Democratic campaign to pressure Republicans into supporting the bill.

"Along the way, they have misleadingly cited those who voted for the issuance of school bonds in the past as supporting their cause today, unfairly attributing to them their narrow view," Sandoval wrote.

He went on to argue that by seeking to undermine the proposed budget, Democrats were risking even more cuts in teacher jobs or a tax increase.

"If these reductions stand, they will necessarily result in deeper cuts -- cuts that will cost over 5,000 teachers their jobs," Sandoval wrote. "Alternatively, AB183 will require a new tax at a point when our economy is presenting limited but promising signs of recovery."

Smith shot back at Sandoval with a written statement of her own. She challenged his assertions that the bill would result in a tax increase and that it was misleading for Democrats to highlight pro-bond voters being in support of AB183.

The bill "requires no new tax and is enabling legislation," Smith wrote. "The school districts have clearly laid out their financial plans to use the money for school construction if it is in their best financial interest to do so."

Smith continued: "Voters who supported the bond measure have repeatedly testified in support of the legislation and oppose the governor's veto today."

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said he wouldn't give up hope for a legislative override, although that appears unlikely.

Both chambers approved the bill along party-line votes. Democrats would need two Republican Assembly members and three senators to cross over to reach the two-thirds needed to override the veto.

And so far Republicans have been in lockstep with Sandoval.

Early Monday Sandoval invited Republican legislators to the Capitol for the veto, which was closed to the public and the press. It was at least the second time in as many weeks the governor met privately with Republican legislators.

Lawmakers acknowledged the Democratic pressure on the school bill was intense but said they intended to stay the course with Sandoval.

"It was a tough vote," said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, on Wednesday. "But at the same time when I go to these things and get yelled at about education, no one is talking about school infrastructure."

He was speaking after Sandoval met with both the Senate and Assembly Republican caucuses.

"He said 'I've got your back and you've got my back,' " said Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, of Sandoval's message.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ or 702-477-9464.