Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman continued to be vague Thursday about whether he’ll run for governor. But he was clear on one subject — he thinks Nevada is headed in the wrong direction and that waves of budget cuts at the state level won’t solve any problems.
"You can cut and cut … and then you end up with more mediocrity," Goodman said when asked about the latest round of cuts called for by Gov. Jim Gibbons. "I don’t want that in my community."
Goodman said little, however, about what he did want, except for echoing comments he made in November to the effect that Nevada may need to overhaul its tax system, or at least consider new or increased taxes.
"I’m not in a position to get into any details," he said. "I’d be more stupid than I think I am if I started to make proclamations about what I would do or what I wouldn’t do."
Ben Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the governor, said Gibbons is committed to "balancing the budget using existing revenue."
"The governor is handling the budget situation in the way that is best for this state," he said. "The governor does not believe that increasing the tax burden on people who are already struggling is prudent."
Goodman is in his third and final mayoral term and has created buzz this week by stating that he’s no longer saying "no" to the possibility of running for governor. But he’s also not saying "yes."
"I’ve always said, ‘No,’ before," he said.
One difference this time is that his wife, Carolyn, is supportive.
"I discussed with her my unhappiness with what’s happening with the state and the direction in which we’re going, and she said, ‘If you want to do something about it I won’t stand in your way,’ " Goodman said. "That was the first time she sort of gave me the go-ahead."
The 2010 governor’s election, though, is still a ways away, and it’s not on the front burner, said Kirsten Searer, the Nevada State Democratic Party’s executive director.
"We’re very focused on the 2008 elections right now and have not begun an official candidate recruitment process," Searer said. "We expect to field a strong challenger and look forward to talking to several candidates."
Still, Searer said she wasn’t surprised that there’s already talk about challenging Gibbons.
"A lot of Democrats are concerned about the governor’s performance so far and would like to see a change in leadership, so a lot of conversation has happened," Searer said.
To deal with lower-than-expected tax revenues, the state trimmed about 4.5 percent from this year’s budget. Gibbons announced this week, though, that in the 2009-2011 biennium, the shortfall could be as high as 14 percent, which has many officials worried about layoffs, large school class sizes and the elimination of social programs.
Goodman said there’s a level of communication common in Las Vegas that he’d like to see statewide.
"I don’t feel that is happening in our state," he said. "People are just being told, ‘Cut, cut, cut,’ and if you cut it so much, you’ll bleed it to death."
In November, Goodman called for an effort to "redesign our entire revenue-raising policy and methodology in Nevada."
That effort is proceeding, but is slow going, said Deputy City Manager Betsy Fretwell.
"It’s going to take a few more months for things to settle out," she said, adding that no consensus set of priorities or funding ideas had emerged yet. "We also know that the Legislature is not too many months away. Bill drafts have to be completed, budgets have to be completed, in the next several months.
"There are tons of little groups that are out in the community talking about various issues. What are the priorities? What should the priorities be? Can we afford them?"
Those are the questions Goodman reiterated Thursday when he said Nevada needs to figure out what it will take to be a "great state."
"You certainly have to have … a lean budget. But if it costs to have a great society, then you have to say, ‘It costs.’ You can’t say you’re going to get something for nothing."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-229-6435.