February 24, 2010 - 12:00 am
Nevada’s lawmakers, meeting in special session to reconcile a projected two-year revenue shortfall of nearly $900 million, are hyperfocused on the financial problems of state government.
A new public opinion poll sounds a clear warning that they had better start paying attention to the suffering of their taxpaying constituents.
According to a Public Opinion Strategies survey commissioned by the Retail Association of Nevada, 80 percent of Nevadans say the state is on the wrong track. That number, gleaned from interviews conducted last week, is up 7 percentage points since May.
"I’ve never seen a number this high for a single state in my 25 years in the business," said Public Opinion Strategies principal researcher Glen Bolger. (The poll has a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points.)
Only 30 percent of Nevadans think the worst is over for the economy, while 64 percent believe the worst is still to come.
These numbers translate into strong anti-incumbent sentiments that cross party lines. When asked if their state legislator has performed well enough to deserve re-election, 71 percent of poll respondents said they definitely or probably would vote for a new person. Only 14 percent said they would definitely or probably vote to re-elect their legislator. Among voters who are "base" Republicans, 79 percent said they would vote for a new person. Among base Democrats, 55 percent said they would vote against the incumbent.
Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, were equally unpopular among poll respondents — a 58 percent unfavorable rating. Mr. Bolger said he doubted any other state had two equally unpopular incumbents at the top of the 2010 ballot.
In a finding that will surprise no one, jobs and the economy dominate voter concerns. Sixty percent believe increased taxes will result in additional job losses.
And yet, lawmakers clearly tie the state’s fortunes to the bottom line of ever-growing government. They seem determined to make sure public-sector workers make as few sacrifices as possible. On Monday, Gov. Gibbons announced he had found $35 million in federal Medicaid funds sitting around Carson City, and that as a result, teachers wouldn’t be asked to take a 1.75 percent pay cut.
If only lowly taxpayers were so fortunate. Mr. Bolger’s poll found 53 percent of voters favor a flat salary cut for state employees to help balance the general fund, and 73 percent support cutting the salaries of local government workers.
Lawmakers already have engaged in plenty of funny business and back-room dealmaking, and the special session is only a day old. Who knows what steps they might take to avoid cutting a single dollar in state spending? Legislative leaders have said "everything is on the table" — would anyone be surprised to see this bunch, which raised taxes by $1 billion only nine months ago, try to raise taxes again?
Term-limited Sens. Bill Raggio and Randolph Townsend, both R-Reno, appear more than willing to provide Senate Democrats with the two GOP votes they need to raise taxes and override a gubernatorial veto. Any such vote would amount to a declaration of contempt against the private sector — and pink slips for more of its workers.
Voters are paying attention. And they’re not happy.