Regardless of which party controls the state Senate during the 2009 Legislature — the GOP currently has the narrowest of majorities at 11-10 — it’s clear that new Democratic Leader Steven Horsford will bring a much different approach to Carson City than his predecessor, Dina Titus.
Ms. Titus, the longtime Senate minority leader who lost the governor’s race in 2006, is vacating her District 7 seat to run for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. Her brand of politics usually focused on the interests of government, not the businesses and workers who fund it. A longtime public employee, Ms. Titus never had enough tax money to spend — and never sought comparable levels of accountability to match Nevada’s budget increases over the years.
Enter Sen. Horsford, who in a Wednesday meeting with the Review-Journal’s editorial board called himself “a new kind of leader.” He’s a heavy favorite to win re-election to his District 4, Las Vegas seat, and he’s planning public meetings across the state in advance of November’s vote to solicit voters’ opinions and concerns about Nevada’s sagging economy and the Legislature’s priorities for next year’s session.
The $6.8 billion budget approved in 2007 has been cut to about $5.6 billion, and the 2009 Legislature likely will have even less revenue to work with for the coming biennium — perhaps $5.5 billion or less.
Enter the calls for tax increases, right?
“I won’t support tax increases — not when the private sector is losing revenue and losing jobs,” Sen. Horsford said.
Enter the calls for more funding for public education and pay raises for teachers with no strings attached, right?
“Funding increases need to be tied to reforms to public education,” Sen. Horsford said. “We need to invest more money in recruiting high-quality teachers, and we need to offer better pay for better performance. … Performance measures need to be part of any discussion on raising teacher pay,” and new teachers could be paid higher starting salaries in exchange for reduced retirement benefits, he said.
Enter the calls for higher taxes to pay for highway improvements, right?
“I think everyone recognizes the need for more public-private partnerships in transportation,” Sen. Horsford said, expressing interest in a Republican proposal to have investors build a toll road outside Boulder City that will speed traffic from the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge to the Las Vegas Valley.
Enter the calls for massive spending increases once Nevada’s economy recovers, right?
“The general fund needs to be managed in a way that doesn’t allow growth beyond population growth and inflation,” Sen. Horsford said, calling for the replenishment of the state’s rainy day fund and the development of endowments to enhance state funding.
“I believe government should do a few things very well, then get out of the way,” Sen. Horsford said. “State government is doing too many things.”
Die-hard Democrats need not worry about Sen. Horsford’s commitment to providing health care to the uninsured and encouraging the development of alternative energy in Nevada. He still supports imposing full-day kindergarten statewide at a huge cost to the state, although there likely won’t be any way to pay for it anytime soon.
But Sen. Horsford seems acutely aware of the struggles of the middle class and the need to nurture Nevada’s economy.
Voters shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have their priorities heard in advance of Election Day. Sen. Horsford, whose meeting schedule should be finalized by this week, said he wants to “build bridges” in advance of the 2009 session.
Let’s hope the Democrat-dominated Assembly, which has long opposed most of Sen. Horsford’s aforementioned positions, will meet him halfway.