Speaker declares war on governor, days after he called her a moron

Without raising her voice, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley declared open warfare on Gov. Jim Gibbons. Moments into her televised speech following his Thursday night, she set it up.

“While (Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill) Raggio and I may sometimes differ in how to solve our state’s problems, the senator is an honest and dedicated public servant, and we share a deep love for our state and optimism about Nevada’s future,” the Las Vegas Democrat said. “I want to publicly thank him for working in a bipartisan manner to reach a solution to our short-term problems.”

Then the punch line: “I cannot say the same for our governor.”

If it had been a cartoon show, you would have seen a cudgel in her hand going “bam, bam, bam” on the Republican governor’s head.

There was more. She compared Gibbons unfavorably to Democratic Gov. Bob Miller and Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, saying they worked “collaboratively, quickly and strongly.”

“This governor has rarely consulted the Legislature,” she said. Was that contempt I heard in her voice?

Then she reminded viewers of just two of his most recent inconsistencies. He told lawmakers one day he would not call a special session, then called one the next day. He indicated he had no plan to meet the budget shortfall, and then said he had a 21-point plan. And once he had it, he never shared it with the legislators until late Friday.

Her choice of language was significant. When it comes to finding the solutions to balance the state’s budget by cutting $275 million more, Buckley said, “Your Legislature is ready and able to face this difficult issue. We will balance the budget and make gut-wrenching decisions necessary to meet our state’s financial obligations.”

She spoke as if the governor were irrelevant.

From her carefully prepared remarks, it’s clear Buckley is girding her loins to run for governor in 2010. “This governor ignores plummeting revenues, sagging employee morale and dissatisfied customers and avoids any level of accountability,” she said, days after he labeled her a moron for saying he called the special session to divert attention from his personal problems.

Buckley said the 2009 session will be the most important in the state’s history, and she vowed to overhaul the state’s tax structure. (Now I heard that in 1987 from Speaker Joe Dini, and no tax overhaul ever happened, so I must admit some doubts.)

She said that “those who agree that our system is broken can work together with me to, once and for all, make meaningful change.” It sounded like she was sending the message to anybody interested in revenue sources that they should work with her and bypass Gibbons altogether.

Buckley has set a high bar for herself for the 2009 session, which starts in just seven months.

Contrast that with the bar set in the 10-minute speech by the governor, who first told us what he won’t do.

He won’t raise taxes.

He won’t agree to cut the 4 percent cost-of-living raises for teachers and state employees, even though that could prevent layoffs. Better to pander to the many at the expense of smaller numbers who could lose their jobs. Of course, this is another example of the governor who can’t make up his mind. He favored cutting COLAs a few weeks ago.

He won’t agree to cutting $47 million for new textbooks, even though it might prevent layoffs.

He won’t agree to cutting signing bonuses for teachers.

Finally, he mentioned a handful of things he wanted to do. He wanted the Legislature to reduce the operating budgets of state agencies by $128 million, or another 4 percent. But he didn’t want them to make the cuts to education or health and human services. He left it in the hands of lawmakers how to do that.

And he wanted them to delay transportation projects and use money from other sources, including the public health trust fund, unclaimed property, disaster relief and a tax amnesty fund.

One idea I heard from the governor that I agreed with completely was to allow state agencies greater flexibility to move money around in their various accounts.

When the cuts are finalized, we’ll see how much of Gov. Gibbons’ plan was approved, or if he has become as irrelevant as Speaker Buckley made him sound in her war cry.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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