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Special session

Gov. Jim Gibbons said Friday that he’ll call lawmakers to Carson City later this month for a special session to address the state’s revenue shortfall.

Several Democratic lawmakers criticized the move, arguing that the current fiscal year is almost over and that changes to the spending blueprint for the following fiscal year could be handled when lawmakers convene for their scheduled 2009 session in February.

That’s a legitimate point. A special session should be a last resort. But why would legislative Democrats who previously complained about being ignored when the governor was forced to adjust the budget over the past six months now reject the opportunity to be heard?

In fact, Democrats want nothing to do with a special session because they believe it could undermine their success in the upcoming November elections. Deep down, many of them believe the budget solution must involve higher taxes, but they’re not willing to take that chance with the electorate. Doing nothing and pointing the finger at an unpopular Republican governor represents a far more comfortable option.

But Gov. Gibbons now forces their hand.

At issue is how best to deal with tax collections lagging far behind projections. Since lawmakers adjourned last June, economic conditions have led Gov. Gibbons to reduce state budget growth for the current fiscal year by $913 million. He and lawmakers will need to find another $90 million by the end of June.

With no sign yet of a rebound in sales and gaming tax collections, the outlook appears no better for fiscal year 2008-09.

Gov. Gibbons has yet to announce any specifics about his budget proposals for the upcoming special session, which is scheduled to begin June 23. He should do so as soon as possible. It’s clear, however, that lawmakers must re-examine the raises — amounting to as much as 10 percent, when everything is factored in — that they granted last year to state and university employees and public school teachers.

Legislative Democrats will surely fight such a move, but the alternative could be layoffs. Which would they prefer? In addition they should be wary of the political consequences of battling to preserve generous public-sector pay hikes at a time when the private sector workers who must fund those raises are struggling to make ends meet.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Democrats will work to come up with a budget plan by later this week. All suggestions should be welcome. But as the upcoming showdown looms, it would be instructive to consider the words of state Sen. Bob Beers, the Las Vegas Republican.

“This special session should offer a constructive dialogue about our current budget situation,” he said last week. ” I anticipate that some will line up in defense of ongoing government growth during this economic downturn. Others, like me, will line up in defense of those who fund government … the hard-working families who pay the bills.”

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