Bluffing with just deuces

It’s 2003 all over again in Carson City. The Democrats are holding public schools hostage.

In 2003, they passed all the spending budgets except education and then declared education could not be funded unless $800 million in tax hikes were approved, which required a two-thirds supermajority of both houses of the Legislature. But 15 Assembly Republicans refused to budge.

To settle the impasse, Gov. Kenny Guinn appealed to the Supreme Court, which came down with the startling and unprecedented decision that funding education took precedent over the constitutional provision for a two-thirds majority. That widely ridiculed ruling has since been reversed.

But in the meantime, then-U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons pushed and got passed by the voters a constitutional amendment called Education First, requiring lawmakers to fund the education budget first.

With this bit of history totally ignored, on Tuesday in a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, on a party-line vote, Democrats rejected Gov. Brian Sandoval’s K-12 education budget and added $650 million in spending without giving any indication what might be cut instead or what additional taxes might be imposed to cover the difference. The Democrats dismissed out of hand the governor’s proposals to cut school employees’ pay by 5 percent, freeze pay increases for teachers and lift restrictions on school construction bond reserves so money intended for capital costs can be spent on operational expenses in the classroom. The joint committee did approve requiring teachers and school district employees to contribute to their retirement plans, a savings of $200 million. Otherwise we’d be back to the 2003 gap between revenue and expenses.

If both chambers pass this unfunded budget for education, we could wind up with 2003 in reverse. Democrats need a few Republicans to defect from Gov. Sandoval’s no-new-taxes barricade to achieve two-thirds, but Republicans need a few Democratic defections to pass the governor’s budget with a simple majority.

The last days of the session could as easily be spent looking for $650 million to cut from higher education, prisons and social services as debating what taxes to add or increase.

If the Democrats have anything up their sleeves besides a bluff, they need to start telling how they plan to balance the budget — and on the backs of whom.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was quoted as saying, “I have said every day since the beginning of the session that, as a parent and legislator, I will not vote to gut education. I did not get into public service to rob the children of Nevada of the opportunity to succeed. Today, we closed the (public education budget) at an acceptable level. Our young students deserve no less.”

But Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, rightly pointed out, “If they are going to ask us to come in and spend a bunch of money and not identify where they are getting it from, that is a joke.”

Should the Democrats really bluff while holding just a pair of deuces? The Supreme Court isn’t going to make that mistake again.

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