Raggio replacement opposes tax increase

CARSON CITY — Tuesday’s appointment of former U.S. Attorney Greg Brower to replace retiring state Sen. Bill Raggio of Reno makes it less likely that taxes will be raised during the coming legislative session.

Brower, a Republican and a former assemblyman, made it clear to the four Washoe County commissioners who picked him for the job that he opposes raising taxes during the session, which starts Feb. 7.

"Taxes are the price we pay for living in society," Brower told commissioners. "But I agree with the governor. This is not the time to raise taxes. We must do the best we can to balance the budget with the revenue we have."

Before he retired Saturday, Raggio had been expected to support at least some tax increases to help state government weather the economic slump, which has cut into revenues. He did not interfere in the selection but had expressed hope the commission would appoint someone who shares his political philosophy and would work with Democrats.

But now that Brower has announced he does not favor tax increases, he joins a group of conservative Republicans who control the minority caucus in the Senate and who oppose tax increases.

It takes a two-thirds affirmative vote in each house of the Legislature to pass taxes. Democrats hold an 11-10 margin in the Senate and a 26-16 lead in the Assembly.

That means if every Democrat voted to increase taxes, they still would be three votes short of the 14 needed to pass taxes in the Senate and two votes short of the 28 needed in the Assembly. Not every Democrat is expected to support raising taxes during a recession.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Reno, said Brower’s statements show he is "aligned with the Senate Republican caucus" which as a "general rule" does not support tax increases.

"He is a smart guy and will look at the issues," McGinness said.

Raggio called Brower, who will fill out the last two years of his term, "an exceptional choice," adding that he is a reasonable man who will work with others.

"I understand the position everyone is taking about the budget and taxes, but in the end, people will do what is right to provide essential services," Raggio said. "There are no easy answers. If they shift services to local governments, that hardly is keeping a pledge not to raise taxes."

Assembly Speaker-elect John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, congratulated Brower for getting the appointment.

"Greg has a tough act to follow. Bill Raggio is a great friend who is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. But there’s good reason to believe he will rise to the challenge," said Oceguera, who served with Brower in the 2001 session. "I am looking forward to working with him to find solutions for the people of Nevada."

The four county commissioners unanimously appointed the Bonanza High School graduate after three hours of interviews in which 12 candidates separately answered the same series of questions.

Raggio, 84, announced earlier this month that he was retiring effective Jan. 15, citing mobility problems. He has been either the majority or minority leader of the Senate since 1982.

After the November election, the Senate Republican caucus appointed McGinness to replace Raggio as their leader. Raggio was dumped mainly because of his support of Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid over Republican challenger Sharron Angle in the Senate race and for his yes votes for tax increases in 2003 and 2009.

Raggio was the Senate majority leader when $833 million in tax increases were approved, and in 2009, he voted for $800 million in temporary tax increases. Those taxes are due to expire on June 30, and Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he will veto any bill to reauthorize them.

Former Nevada Tax Commission Chairwoman Barbara Smith Campbell was the second choice. Reno lawyer Dan Reaser was the only other candidate to be mentioned by the four commissioners as among his or her top two choices.

But Brower, 46, clearly had the experience that commissioners mentioned that they wanted in the senator.

He was a two-year U.S. attorney for Nevada and served the 1999 and 2001 legislative sessions representing a Reno Assembly district. He was named the best freshmen after the 1999 session.

But he lost a bid for a third-term in 2002 to Angle, leading pundits to suggest that Angle had out-hustled Brower in walking the district and talking with voters.

"You can’t replace Senator Raggio," Brower said Tuesday. "His shoes are too big to fill. What is absolutely critical is doing your very best. There is no time to learn the process. The relationships have to be there. The knowledge of the system has to be there. If I didn’t think I was the best person for the job, I wouldn’t be here."

He re-emphasized that legislators should not approve tax increases during a recession.

"Unemployment is at a record high. Now is not the time to increase the tax burden on Nevadans," Brower said.

He works for the Snell & Wilmer law firm, with offices in Las Vegas and Reno and other cities.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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