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Democrats try to avoid special session

Democrats in the state Assembly hope a special legislative session can be avoided altogether by coming up with budget cuts that would cover the shortfall and wouldn’t require passage by the entire Legislature, Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera said after a Wednesday meeting of the Assembly majority party caucus.

“We’re going to work as hard as we can to not have a special session, quite frankly,” Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said. “We think if we work with the Senate, we can get there. Whether the governor’s going to play ball, I don’t know.”

Gov. Jim Gibbons plans to issue the proclamation Sunday to call the Legislature into session beginning Monday, a move Democratic legislators believe is unnecessary.

Gibbons, a Republican, says some solutions to worsening state budget shortfalls require legislative approval, such as canceling 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment raises for state workers.

Oceguera said there is “no support” among Assembly Democrats for revoking the raises. With Democrats holding a 27-15 majority in the lower house, such a measure could not pass without significant Democratic support.

An estimated $90 million of the $120 million in raises are set to go to teachers. Oceguera said taking back the raises would be legally thorny because teachers have already been promised the raises in contract negotiations.

“It just doesn’t make sense, and it’s not the right thing to do,” Oceguera said, noting that fuel and food prices have risen by more than 4 percent in recent months and workers need the money.

Oceguera said the Assembly Democrats also had no love for a proposal floated by Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki to borrow against the state’s tobacco settlement money. He said the caucus didn’t have specific cuts to recommend, however, because there’s no firm estimate yet for the shortfall.

Projections from official sources have ranged from $60 million to more than $200 million.

“We need a number,” Oceguera said. “We’ve kind of got a moving target.”

Legislative fiscal analysts are scheduled to release an updated estimate at noon today, he said, after which the Assembly majority will regroup.

“We haven’t made any recommendations at this time, the reason being the number is bouncing all over the place.”

If the special session does go forward, Oceguera doesn’t foresee Democrats trying to enact tax increases that would raise additional revenue to refill state coffers.

Proposals to raise hotel room taxes or state payroll taxes were touched upon only briefly in Wednesday night’s meeting, he said.

The more immediate goal is to make it to the regular 2009 legislative session, Oceguera said.

“We all know there needs to be some long-term fixes, but I don’t know if this is the time,” he said. “We need to fill the gap until the next fiscal year. We think we can fill it, but we know there needs to be long-term solutions.”

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

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