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STEVE SEBELIUS: Compromise, intransigence and veto power

In the reverse Pandora’s box that is the Nevada Legislature, hope popped out first, followed by curses.

Gov. Joe Lombardo and state lawmakers gathered in the second-floor Old Assembly Chambers in the state Capitol on Wednesday, just minutes before midnight, for the signing of two critical budget bills.

Their fate was in doubt for most of that day, as lawmakers negotiated under the threat of a veto of the K-12 education budget unless Lombardo’s education priorities were addressed. And after tense negotiations, they were.

The quid pro quo: a pair of bills to address school safety, which has become a big issue, especially in Las Vegas, where guns are routinely confiscated and where an Eldorado High School teacher was brutally assaulted by a student.

After amendments, the Legislature passed both Assembly Bill 285 by Assemblywoman Angie Taylor, D-Reno, and Assembly Bill 330, sought by Lombardo, both pertaining to discipline of students. Compromise on those bills paved the way for Lombardo to sign budget legislation that he might otherwise have rejected.

“So there was a lot of consternation early on in the process because my bill wasn’t getting heard, and then it got heard, it failed on the vine,” Lombardo said. His frustration is understandable, especially for a new governor learning that there are 63 mini-governors across the courtyard who are not easily led (even by their own leaders).

And, of course, you cannot subtract Lombardo’s desire to take political credit for accomplishments from the equation, any more than you can subtract Democrats’ desire to deny him that credit.

But beyond the politics, there’s some tough legislative work that got done.

“So it did take a lot of work, a lot of give and take, a lot of blood, sweat and maybe not tears but just a lot of the work,” Taylor said at the midnight news conference held to showcase the signing of the bills. “When there’s a lot at stake, then you put a lot into it.”

Lombardo agreed: “It’s a bipartisan effort that shows that we can work together for the benefit of Nevada and the kids, which is the most important piece.”

Forgotten during the event was the fact that about a dozen Republicans — taking a lead from Lombardo — voted no last month on final passage of the very education bill that he signed as they stood smiling behind the governor. But all’s well once the compromise was struck.

Asked if the bill signing event would have happened had Lombardo not played hardball, the governor said no. “I think what you’re driving at, was it a hill to die for?” he said. “Yes, in my opinion, it was. I think it’s that important to the people in Nevada, to the parents in Nevada, to the kids in Nevada and for your governor, myself, for the success of our education system.”

But then, the curses.

Late Thursday, Lombardo vetoed the Appropriations Act, which funds a wide swath of state government, from health care to education to public safety. In his veto message, the governor acknowledged the bill largely reflects his own budget, submitted to the Legislature back in January. But he criticized it for relying on one-time money to fund ongoing expenses, and failing to increase the money sent to the state’s rainy day fund.

It creates the potential for Nevada to fall off a fiscal cliff, he said.

The veto of that budget, however, is more of a sign that negotiations on other Lombardo initiatives have hit a standstill than true dissatisfaction with the spending plan. Does anyone doubt that if lawmakers had devoted more money to Opportunity Scholarships, for example, Lombardo would have signed the supposedly flawed appropriations act in another act of compromise? Suddenly, the fiscal cliff would have just become a place to take in the pretty scenic view.

Hope of ending the session on time and finding the compromises necessary to avoid a special session and an extended standoff has gotten more scarce. But Lombardo and the Democrats have demonstrated that they know how to compromise and, when they work hard at it, can resolve their differences and get things done. That skill will be in high demand as the session reaches its final day on Monday, and the struggles for credit and blame reach new heights.

Maybe there’s a little more hope in that box?

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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