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An end to legislative gridlock over gridlock?

I-15 SOUTHBOUND NEAR SPRING MOUNTAIN ROAD — The white Honda riding my ass has just opted to once again switch lanes.

It’s 1:10 p.m. on a Wednesday, not what you’d call a traditional traffic tie-up period even with service worker shift times in consideration.

But the highway isn’t really moving and the Civic has given up the far left lane and is now causing me to tap the brakes or risk really shutting down Southern Nevada’s arterial lifeline.

You know it well. You’ve sat in it. You’ve cursed it. You’ve had to slam on the brakes for no apparent reason.

Yet you live with it because those construction signs on Interstate 15 and the ever-changing configurations of U.S. Highway 95 beckon better times ahead.

But a better sign of the end to gridlock might actually have appeared last week in Carson City. At least, press accounts made it seem as though political gridlock in one branch of government may be subsiding.

Could it really have been that both Assembly leaders joined together to pledge a solution to Southern Nevada’s pressing transportation infrastructure needs? They are after all, a Democrat and a Republican, even if they are both from Las Vegas.

But there it was, Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey joining with Speaker Barbara Buckley. Maybe Mabey has finally figured out that in his caucus, with a fairly even split between north and south, it makes more sense to take on a geographic battle than the larger political one.

“Maybe the Legislature needs to do something the governor may oppose,” Mabey said.

The “something” is raising taxes. And it’s not as if that’s an easy thing for Mabey to say.

During his freshman session in 2003, Mabey was emboldened when fellow Assembly Republicans staged their tax revolt. He knows how to vote no on taxes.

But there comes a time when you have to decide if paying an extra $20 to get a driver’s license (that’s a $5-a-year charge, by the way) is really taxing to you.

When you have a $4 billion hole that is growing deeper by the day, you have to take drastic measures to make sure the cost of building the 10 road projects we already know we need doesn’t jump to $8 billion.

That’s why the bipartisan showing from the Assembly, albeit a tenuous one, is remarkable to see.

What will be even more remarkable is if the Assembly can send over a fairly unanimous bill to the Senate. Sure, Republicans may bristle at the 15 cents-per-mile weight-distance tax on trucks. But that’s why Buckley set it at 15. In Carson City, the two parties still horsetrade and negotiate up until the 120th day … and beyond.

Some Republicans may even be upset at the slower vehicle depreciation schedule both houses have proposed. This will result in smaller decreases in vehicle registration fees over time, or — if you prefer — a 20 percent increase in your long-term registration cost.

The governor has vowed to veto anything the Legislature sends him that includes a tax increase. So, the Assembly bill should be dead on arrival without some amendments.

But if the hardly comparable funding for Interstate 80 in Northern Nevada is included in the overall scheme, it might generate enough support among northern Republicans to get to that mystical two-thirds majority.

Enough of them certainly made it there in 2003 for four times as much in new taxes than the Assembly transportation proposal envisions.

The Senate transportation shortfall bill, which implements some past task force recommendations on the problem, includes raising the gasoline tax and sparking construction of toll roads.

Lawmakers should put the gas tax question to the voters and should swiftly work out the details of the other recommendations.

In this unprecedented vacuum of leadership in Carson City, there’s actually hope (albeit of the infinitesimal variety) for the Legislature to step up and pass something.

And if both leaders of the lower house are willing to stand up and offer a solution, there’s no reason the leaders of the upper house can’t muster similar support. After all, three of the 10 super projects that would be funded between 2008 and 2015 are in the Reno area.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, who has already faced voters for the last time under the coming term limits, has no reason not to support revenue that would help his constituents. He’s already on record this session as supporting a tax hike for Washoe County Schools, if voters approve.

What remains to be seen is whether Buckley can get Mabey’s support on the transportation plan, particularly because he’s signed a no-new-taxes pledge. Still, there are enough Republicans (about six) in the lower house who have not signed such a pledge.

And that’s plenty to sustain a veto.

Assuming the 10 Democrats in the state Senate can hold together, you can probably find enough senators in the upper house to support a bill. And if Gibbons’ approval rating can’t crawl out of the 20s, what’s the political harm in overriding a veto?

Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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