Gov. Brian Sandoval on Wednesday criticized President Barack Obama for going around Congress to authorize temporary work permits for young immigrants brought illegally to the United States by their parents.
"I think there’s a question if he had the authority," said the former federal judge during a meeting with the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board. "On its face, I think he needed to go the congressional route."
The wide-ranging interview with Sandoval came before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule today on whether Obama’s health care law is constitutional, particularly a mandate for Americans to buy insurance.
Sandoval said that if the law is implemented, even without the mandate, it will wipe out any state budget surplus expected from increased tax revenues.
The governor put the figure at $40 million to $60 million, although state officials have previously said it could be more than $100 million each year between 2014 and 2019.
"Everyone is kind of holding their breaths to hear what happens," Sandoval said. "If it’s found to be constitutional, all that surplus will be gone."
Nevada is among two dozen states that sued to block the health care law, but the Sandoval administration has been working to implement it in case all or part of it is upheld, the governor said.
What to do about the nation’s health law and immigration are expected to influence the close presidential race between Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, particularly in battleground states such as Nevada.
Romney has argued Obama’s health care insurance law should be overturned or repealed as unconstitutional and too costly, although Romney implemented similar reforms at the state level while governor of Massachusetts.
On immigration, Obama recently announced the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t deport illegal immigrants who came to this country before the age of 16 and now are 30 years old or younger. He said his administration would offer renewable, two-year work permits to those undocumented youth who grew up here.
Obama’s order came five months before the Nov. 6 election, boosting the Democratic president’s Hispanic support in key Latino-heavy swing states, including Nevada.
A poll released Wednesday by Latino Decisions showed Obama leading Romney among Hispanics in Nevada, 69 percent to 20 percent. The poll, taken June 12-21, questioned 400 registered Nevada Latinos and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The president said he acted because Congress refused to pass the DREAM Act. It would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants who attend college or join the U.S. military.
Sandoval, a Republican and Nevada’s first Hispanic governor, said he, like Romney, opposes the DREAM Act and believes the United States should better guard its borders and reform the immigration system.
But Sandoval said he supported a proposal by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio, a Hispanic, was considering introducing a DREAM Act-style bill that would have allowed undocumented youth to stay in the United States long term, but without promising them a path to citizenship. Obama’s surprise decision pre-empted Rubio.
Sandoval said he had spoken to Rubio about his immigration idea and thought it sounded like a good solution – and it would have to be approved by Congress, which has the authority to make laws.
"That sounded like something that could improve the situation in this country," Sandoval said of Rubio’s idea.
Sandoval said Congress must do something to reform immigration because nearly 12 million illegal immigrants now live in the United States, including several hundred thousand in Nevada.
Up to 30,000 young Nevada immigrants may qualify for Obama’s work permit program, according to Latino experts.
Although the health care law is an economic wild card, Sandoval said that the Nevada economy is improving and that he is halfway to his goal of creating 50,000 new private-sector jobs by 2014. He said that the state just reached the 25,000 mark and that sales tax revenues have been growing for 20 months in a row as well.
"The state is on a slight recovery," Sandoval said. "I like the direction we’re going right now."
Sandoval said he is focused on reviving the state, which still has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 11.6 percent, and the deepest home foreclosure crisis as well.
He dismissed the notion that Romney’s chances of beating Obama in the battleground state are worse if Nevada is doing better by Election Day.
Sandoval said that is a political calculation he doesn’t make. He noted that the state would be better off without so many regulations – such as those on mining – and so much uncertainty about whether Obama will raises taxes.
"I’m going to do what’s best for the state of Nevada," Sandoval said when asked whether he hurts Romney by touting the state’s improving economy. "We could be further down the road without all the regulations."
Sandoval also talked for the first time about the deal his economic development office made with Apple, the computer giant that wants to open facilities in Sparks and Reno as part of a $1 billion investment.
Nevada and local authorities had to agree to $89 million in county, city and state tax abatements to lure Apple. That would give the company an effective sales tax rate of less than 1 percent.
The governor said Nevada was competing with Oregon and other states for the Apple expansion and had to offer the best deal possible, which could prompt other companies to flock to the state too.
"It’s very aggressive," he said of the competition. "That’s what we had to do to get them here."
He said Nevada will reap a far larger economic benefit than it had to give up in potential tax collections.
"That will be, I think, a magnet for other companies to locate there," Sandoval said.
State and local governments would still collect about $16 million in tax revenue from Apple over the next 10 years.
Applied Economics of Las Vegas has estimated the overall economic impact of the project at $343 million, which includes 41 full-time jobs at a data center and 200 contract employees. About 580 construction jobs are planned, adding another economic impact estimated at $103 million.
Sandoval said close to 200 companies have asked about moving to Nevada or about expanding if they’re already operating in the state. He frequently speaks to CEOs himself. He said his administration has set up an economic "war room" focused on boosting various business sectors to broaden Nevada’s gaming and tourism-based economy.
Sandoval said the state’s low-tax environment is a major draw. He said that’s why he is opposed to any new taxes, including a proposed 2 percent margin tax that may be on the November ballot.
"Any kind of new business tax would be crushing on businesses," Sandoval said.
The governor won election in 2010 based on a promise not to raise taxes. But he agreed last year to extend a $620 million package of taxes that were to sunset. He had said he will propose maintaining them for another two years to properly fund education, social services and other basic government needs.
According to polls, Sandoval is the most popular politician in Nevada these days. He said he is helping raise money and will campaign vigorously for Republicans running in 2012, from legislative races to the presidential contest. He already appeared once at a Romney campaign event, and he expects Obama to face tough competition.
"I would anticipate he’s going to be here often," Sandoval said of Romney.
At one time, Sandoval was considered a strong prospect as a vice presidential running mate for Romney because of his Hispanic heritage and his success as a Republican governor in a swing state that could decide the White House race.
But Sandoval said repeatedly he has no interest in the job and wants to run for re-election in 2014 instead.
Asked whether Romney has been vetting Sandoval anyway, the governor said, "Not that I know of." He added that he has made it clear to Romney that he’s out of any vice presidential contention in 2012.
"I love my job," Sandoval said.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.