'We are but stewards'

Brian Sandoval was easily elected governor last November, vowing not to raise taxes and promising to make the difficult choices necessary to head off a looming fiscal implosion caused by years of revenue growth that prompted lawmakers to spend and spend.

On Monday, he outlined his vision.

The "key is to get Nevada working again," Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, said in his State of the State address from Carson City.

To accomplish this, he recognized something many involved in the upcoming 2011 legislative session will find hard to accept: "The cure is not more government spending, but helping businesses create jobs." Perhaps by getting red tape and expenses out of the way of private-sector job creation?

Gov. Sandoval reminded listeners he has taken a step in that direction by signing an executive order freezing most state regulations and ordering a review of existing regulations to create a stable regulatory environment for businesses.

One of the first steps in making the state more business friendly, he outlined in his speech, is forcing outlays to return to the levels of 2007. To do that the governor laid out a realistic plan to cut spending to $5.8 billion, a far cry from the 34 percent increase to $8.3 billion sought by state agencies.

Instead the governor said he will submit a budget 8 percent less the previous one. State workers will see all merit and longevity pay frozen and salaries cut by 5 percent -- a move that might not have been necessary if those workers in 2008 had not been given ill-advised 4 percent cost-of-living raises during a recession. The pay cut will replace furloughs that caused customer service to suffer.

Funding for K-12 education will be cut 9 percent and higher education 7 percent -- but those numbers should be mitigated if lawmakers accept his education reform proposals.

At one point he channeled former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose state has made great strides in educational achievement, calling for the end of social promotions. "Students who cannot read by the end of the third grade will not be advanced to the fourth grade," Gov. Sandoval said.

He also called for ending teacher tenure, eliminating pay incentives for longevity and advanced degrees, using student achievement data to evaluate teachers and principals, performance pay for effective teachers, parental choice that includes vouchers for private schools and allowing the governor to appoint members of the state Board of Education rather that have them run for office.

Noting that those "effective at teaching students and leading schools are paid exactly the same as those who are failing," the governor called for spending $20 million in performance pay for the most effective teachers.

Though his speech lacked specificity, Gov. Sandoval recognized the upcoming Legislature must reform collective bargaining to "ensure employee compensation does not hamper government performance."

Additionally, he stated that future public employees must be switched from guaranteed lifetime pensions to a defined contribution plan similar to the 401(k) plans found in the private sector and that the state can no longer afford to pay full health coverage for retirees.

Legislators and state agencies must take to heart Gov. Sandoval's message, "This is the people's government. We are but stewards."