Budget cuts and bruised egos

Gov. Jim Gibbons could have executed $542 million in spending reductions with more openness. At one point, he sent state attorneys to court to block the release of cuts suggested by various agency chiefs.

But Gov. Gibbons ultimately demonstrated a willingness to consider a variety of perspectives. He held a budget summit with state and local elected officials. He consulted lawmakers of both parties.

As a result, the plan that will be carried out over the next 18 months is radically different from the one the first-term Republican offered in the fall, when the economy first showed signs of souring. Gov. Gibbons initially exempted K-12 schools and public safety from spending reductions — putting most of the burden on higher education and welfare programs — and ruled out tapping the state’s $267 million rainy day fund. Now the cuts will be spread across all departments and programs, and the rainy day fund will be drawn down by at least $232 million when the Legislature convenes a year from now.

In the end, Gov. Gibbons acted within the authority of his office and the requirements of state law to balance the budget, just as his two predecessors, Republican Kenny Guinn and Democrat Bob Miller, did during their terms in office.

The process of putting the state bureaucracy on a strict fiscal diet is especially upsetting to Democrats. Beholden to public employees and special interests completely dependent on tax dollars, they want to spend significantly more on government programs, not less. And they’re still seething that Gov. Gibbons was elected in 2006 on a no-new-taxes pledge.

But the partisan bluster that spewed from Thursday’s Interim Finance Committee meeting crossed the line from mere philosophical opposition to near-psychotic.

Two hours of angry debate centered on the assertion that lawmakers, not Gov. Gibbons, were empowered to decide which parts of the state budget would be cut. Sen. Bob Coffin of Las Vegas urged fellow Democrats to support a lawsuit against Gov. Gibbons for not obtaining a full legislative review and vote on the spending reductions.

“What they are about to do is commit a crime, for Christ’s sake,” Sen. Coffin complained, comparing the budget cuts to someone walking into a private residence and stealing a television set.

Sen. Coffin’s preposterous analogy would have been perfect if he were describing the tax increases he and other Democrats desire. He wants to empower state government to reach into citizens’ homes and confiscate more of their wealth amid an economic downturn — wealth that might have been used to buy food, new clothes … or a television set.

“It’s not the governor’s fault we have a $540 million loss of revenue,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said Thursday. (Actually, state revenues continue to climb. Gov. Gibbons’ “cuts” are merely reductions in the rate of state spending growth.) “The economy created this. … In the old days, we had elections and then worked together. … There is no violation of law here.”

Ultimately, the Interim Finance Committee moved on to other business. Sen. Coffin should apply some ice to his bruised ego and do the same.

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