'Difficult' year: Nevada budget situation not unique

As Nevada lawmakers gather in Carson City today to convene the 2011 legislative session, they face myriad challenges, particularly surrounding the state budget.

But it's worth remembering that this state is not alone.

Despite the constant mantra that Nevada's tax structure makes it uniquely vulnerable to fiscal crisis, the Silver State is just one of many states now forced to deal with years of overspending. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, almost 30 states face deficits running more than 5 percent above their general fund revenue.

"We may be a decade away from the good times," laments one Arizona lawmaker.

A primary factor in gaping budget holes: Federal government handouts -- Nevada took home $450 million -- that masked the extent of many state problems last budget cycle have now dried up. Without the Uncle Sam bailout money, states, including Nevada, will have little choice but to confront the hard choices they kicked down the road in years past.

As for the notion that simply raising taxes or fees will solve the issue, the NCSL notes that many states -- again, including Nevada -- have already done just that yet remain underwater, so "lawmakers may be reluctant to go down that road again."

That leaves "budget cuts," the NCSL concludes.

"Many legislative fiscal directors see FY 2012 as possibly the most difficult budget year yet," according to a story in the NCSL publication "State Legislatures." "At an NCSL meeting of legislators and staff in December, participants were asked to dispute this assertion. Not a single one did."

The days of spending sprees have passed. So when you hear the wailing about heartless budget cuts -- and you will -- remember that Gov. Brian Sandoval and like-minded lawmakers aren't operating out of a mean-spirited stinginess, but out of necessity.

Just like their counterparts all across the country.