It’s been a week since nearly 1,000 students from across Nevada descended on Carson City to protest Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts. So everything should be fixed by now, right?
Not really. In fact, the cross-state trek fell on many deaf ears, not unlike a series of town hall events being staged across Nevada to find the votes necessary to raise taxes.
Democrats have been calling the same old plays from their dog-eared book: Attack the governor’s budget, and find real people to tell real-life stories about how that budget will hurt them.
State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford has done yeoman’s work in tearing apart the revenue-raising gimmicks in the governor’s spending plan, demonstrating how Sandoval had to (literally) borrow and steal to make his no-tax budget balance. On Monday, Horsford maintained figures show the governor’s plan is $2.5 billion short.
Meanwhile, Democrats have held hearings at which students, teachers, social workers, union members and others have discussed the consequences of budget cuts. They’ve held town halls with overflow crowds at high schools. And they welcomed all those students who pleaded with them not to cut education.
The same game, the same plays. The only problem? Republicans have seen the game films, and they know what’s coming. And so far, they’ve got a pretty good defense.
In the Assembly, Republicans have said they’ll vote to extend "temporary" taxes only if Democrats agree to a laundry list of demands that insult their base. In the Senate, they’re sending out to Staples for a custom-made rubber stamp that says "go pound sand."
Consider the reaction of Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson to the student invasion last week: "This doesn’t really influence me and my decision-making, and they (students) are sorely mistaken if they think it does," he said. "The fact is, we have a finite amount of money."
Students may react angrily — and rest assured Roberson isn’t alone — but there’s a useful message there for Democrats: The old playbook isn’t working.
Back in 2003, the Democrat-led Assembly tried to pass a tax plan they had linked to the school budget. A group of 15 Assembly Republicans refused, saying taxes were too high. The situation was resolved only after two special sessions, a Supreme Court intervention and a high-pressure Republican defection.
The point: Republicans — before there was even a tea party — were willing not only to cut school spending, but to leave schools unable to open at all, rather than vote for taxes.
Assembly Speaker John Oceguera — promising a discussion on taxes before the end of the session — said he would pose a simple question: "At some point, we need to stand up and ask Republicans, ‘Is this really the state you want?’ " He and his fellow Democrats need to be prepared to hear the answer: "Yeah, pretty much."
Roberson may be insensitive to the pleas of Nevada students, but he’s not wrong about the state’s financial situation. There just isn’t enough money to avoid deep cuts to schools and social services, no matter how sad the stories. To quote another famous Republican, you balance the budget with the money you have, not the money you want or the money you might wish to have at a later time.
So the Legislature has a simple choice: Accept Sandoval’s budget and stop complaining, or add more money to the budget. Democrats say they can’t live with Sandoval’s budget, but thus far they haven’t been able to break loose the votes to raise taxes, either.
The old playbook isn’t working. It’s time for Plan B.
There is a Plan B, isn’t there?
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. His column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-387-5276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.