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EDITORIAL: Governor, Democrats dither as state budget burns

First, Gov. Steve Sisolak said he didn’t envision lawmakers taking up tax hikes when they reconvene in Carson City for a special session to clean up the $1.3 billion coronavirus budget implosion. A few days later, he said tax hikes might be on the agenda.

The governor had barely updated his comments when Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, said she doubted lawmakers would have the time to consider raising taxes during the session’s limited time frame.

Then, Gov. Sisolak announced last week that the special session would begin in late June, before the onset of a new fiscal year. On Monday, at the request of the Democratic leadership, he again back-tracked, pushing the gathering to an undetermined date in July.

The term “seat of the pants” comes to mind.

The governor and Democratic lawmakers blamed the delay on the need to prepare the Legislative Building to handle social distancing and other virus-related precautions. Gov. Sisolak “understands the important need of ensuring the safety of members and staff during a special session in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to ensuring the public has a safe way to participate in the process,” a statement from the governor’s office explained.

Safety is a factor, of course, but the need for this session has been apparent for more than three months, ever since the governor on March 17 ordered economic closures across the state. Surely a game plan could have been developed weeks ago. The governor and legislative Democrats are delaying, pure and simple, trying to divert attention from the reality that they’re struggling with how to proceed and whether they should cave to various lobbying interests and expand the agenda beyond the budget to include hot-button issues such as police reform.

Discussion of the latter would be particularly ironic, given that Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, moonlights as a Clark County prosecutor and championed a bill last session that made it even more difficult to deal with problem police officers.

Democrats run the show in Carson City. But their mixed messages have not been encouraging. Too many distractions will lead to problems in a session limited to 20 calendar days. The pressing issue is the massive budget hole that will only keep growing as businesses and casinos feel their way through a gradual recovery and many tourists remain reluctant to travel. Under the state constitution, if the governor calls the special session, he can set the agenda. Gov. Sisolak should keep it focused on the state’s spending blueprint and make clear that tax hikes are out of the question.

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