Gibbons takes one (or 10) in the kisser over proposed budget cuts

Give Gov. Jim Gibbons credit. He’s not the most popular or politically astute governor to ever grace Carson City, but he sure has a hard head.

He’ll need a real WWF cranial battering ram to endure the thumping he’s only beginning to receive from entities pinched by his call for budget cuts in the wake of possible decreases in tax revenues.

Gibbons recently asked state department heads to prepare to cut their budgets up to 5 percent per year, or about $184 million, in preparation for a worst-case scenario.

This past week, University Chancellor James Rogers metaphorically smacked Gibbons on the noggin and spat in his eye by flat refusing the governor’s budget-trimming entreaty. On Monday, Rogers followed with a withering letter.

Talk about a shot to the coconut.

Rogers was joined by Clark County officials, who took turns whacking the honorable mole from Carson City.

Commission Chairman Rory Reid attempted to illustrate the devastating impact a budget cut at the state level would have on county services ranging from juvenile justice to indigent health care and Medicaid rates.

“The State of Nevada has historically under-funded services to our most vulnerable citizens, including youth involved in the child welfare or juvenile justice system and indigent and uninsured patients seeking medical care,” Reid wrote. “These systems cannot afford further reductions in funding.”

Then came the haymaker.

“Clark County will not comply with requests to provide proposed budget cuts for child welfare, juvenile justice, or indigent medical care. My fear is that any response would imply that such cuts are necessary or acceptable. While Clark County is more than willing to participate in a dialogue with you and your legislative leaders about the future of these programs, we believe strongly that they should be one of the last programs to be cut rather than the first.”

On the street, this is what’s known as a pimp slap. I’ve been in the Nevada news racket only 25 years, but I’ve never seen a governor get clobbered so openly.

But there’s more. Reid’s tag team effort included County Manager Virginia Valentine, Juvenile Justice Services Director Cheryln Townsend, and Family Services Director Thomas Morton, whose remarks were enough to raise welts on most political pates.

The letters also raised valid arguments about the importance of state money to burgeoning Clark County. The missives questioned Gibbons’ sincerity when he called for increased funding for programs for poor children.

Quoting the governor: “As political leaders, it is our duty to provide the best care possible for children who, through no fault of their own, come under the care of the child welfare system.”

Quoting the letter: “Your support of those positions during the legislative session demonstrated the importance your administration placed on improving the foster care and adoption system, as well as ensuring the quality of life for our youngest and most at-risk citizens.”

And that makes the governor’s call for tax-cutting preparedness look even more callous.

We Smiths have notoriously hard heads, but I got a migraine just reading those letters. Gibbons must be ready for an ice pack and a six-pack (off the record, of course).

Other governors might have been given credit for steering a cautious course. Not Gibbons, who clearly isn’t striking much fear or commanding much respect from the governor’s chair. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the letters hadn’t ended, “Get stuffed, Jimbo.”

One of Gibbons’ many problems is Nevada’s status as a national laughing stock in the areas of health and social services. Such low standing makes a farce out of conservative budget balancing acts.

Nevada is what I call a cardboard Libertarian state. Folks like to wax philosophical about our state’s up-by-the-bootstraps heritage, but in truth we’re buffeted between the usual conservative and liberal political forces. Our budget is too frontloaded with salary and public employee retirement spending to be considered a conservative Promised Land, and our public health, education, and welfare systems are too malnourished to rank much above Mississippi.

These rebukes of the governor aren’t a line in the sand. They’re shots to the temple. Gibbons will now either back down, or respond in kind with criticism of the county’s growing budget belt line.

It’s a good thing for Gibbons his head is so thick, don’t you think?

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.

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