POLITICAL EYE: Business leaders fear consequences of ‘fiscal cliff’

Executives from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce make their annual trip to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with Nevada lawmakers and federal officials.

Their message: Do whatever it takes to avoid sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts that would take effect early next year if Congress fails to strike a deal on the federal debt.

The chamber does not have an official position on whose taxes should be cut, whose taxes should be raised, or other revenue and spending matters involved in the negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff" at year’s end, said Cara Roberts, senior director of marketing and communications.

But the chamber does know that automatic spending cuts that would take place if Congress falls short could have a deep impact on Nevada, she said.

For instance, more than 500 companies in the state did $1.33 billion in business with the Department of Defense in 2011, according to a study by the Center for Security Policy that was publicized over the summer.

"Our numbers are showing that under sequestration those dollars could be reduced by $239 million in 2013, and that could very easily result in job loss of both civilian and Department of Defense jobs," Roberts said.

The resulting revenue loss to Clark County could be as much as $28.5 million, she said. Statewide, 6,000 jobs could be lost.

"It’s going to be something we bring up," Roberts said. "Across-the-board cuts are going to cut programs that are going to hurt our state."

Chamber President Kristin McMillan and Government Affairs Chairman Hugh Anderson will head the 10-person delegation that will conduct meetings Wednesday through Friday.

Also on the agenda: To discover what money might become available to advance the proposed Interstate 11 between Las Vegas and Phoenix. Congress over the summer made the project eligible for federal aid.

Business leaders also will be seeking clues to where the Department of Transportation stands as far as signing off on a $5.5 billion federal loan for XpressWest to build its planned high-speed rail between Las Vegas and Southern California.

"We want to get a sense of where that approval is and discuss the importance of investing in high-speed rail infrastructure," Roberts said.

– Steve Tetreault

SANDOVAL IS HOT STUFF

Gov. Brian Sandoval had a good reason, at least in his mind, when he skipped the Republican Governors Association meeting early this month in Las Vegas.

He was being honored that day in Washington, D.C., by Governing magazine as one of its eight public officials of the year. Sandoval was the only governor in the nation to receive the honor.

A magazine read by elected officials and media members, Governing called him "The Helmsman" for moving Nevada through the "shambles" he inherited when he was elected in November 2010.

In particular, the magazine mentioned – in a positive way – how he broke a campaign promise not to raise taxes and instead agreed to keep $620 million in business and sales taxes that otherwise would have expired. That was a deal with Nevada legislators at the end of the 2011 session.

"We may not have agreed all the time, but we had a very good relationship," Sandoval told the magazine about his legislative dealings. "So, when it came down to crunch time, we were able to get things done. I think it’s really important to listen to everyone and to see what their goals are. I think it paid dividends in the end."

Governing mentioned how Sandoval at the beginning of the session had met privately with all 63 state legislators to learn of their ideas for the state.

But it did not mention the overriding reason why legislators and Sandoval agreed to the tax deal. On May 26, 2011, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that his move to take $62 million in Clark County revenue was unconstitutional. Within hours of the decision, Sandoval, as well as legislators, realized that hundreds of millions of dollars in other local and school district funds he wanted to use to balance the state budget also would be illegal.

Most of the Republican legislators refused to go along with the tax deal, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Democratic support.

Most of the Republicans also voted no on other Democratic legislation that Sandoval signed, including bills to give equal rights to transgender people and to prohibit texting and the use of hand-held cellphones by drivers.

But the governor’s popularity has soared, and now legislative Republican leaders are eager to champion his efforts. Democrats also are well aware of his popularity. Insiders have suggested the party might draft a sacrificial lamb to oppose him in his re-election bid in 2014.

In the Governing story, state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, talked about how "engaged" Sandoval was compared with his unpopular predecessor, Gov. Jim Gibbons. Denis noted that Sandoval is willing to talk with all sides on issues, even though "we don’t always agree."

Sandoval, however, could be gone soon after his re-election. Although he has pledged to serve two full terms, things happen to derail promises. There had been speculation that he would have become the Interior Department secretary if Mitt Romney had become president. Now the talk is he could be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court if a Republican wins the presidency in 2016.

– Ed Vogel

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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