Will holiday spirit reach capital?

It’s the season for giving. But some of us prefer receiving.

The groundwork is being laid for the 2013 Legislature, and with new leadership in both parties and both chambers, it’s hard to predict how much horse trading might take place. If recent history is any indication, Republicans will be willing to give and Democrats will be all too happy to receive – and there will be precious little reciprocity.

We hear all the time how the GOP is the party of extremism and the enemy of compromise. But in Nevada, with an evenly split congressional delegation, a Democratic Legislature and a Republican governor, and enough nonpartisan voters to swing every major election, it’s the Democrats who are consistently on the inflexible fringe and the Republicans who are governing Nevada from the center.

As proof, just look at the past few weeks of headlines:

– Brian Sandoval became the first Republican governor to expand Medicaid under the terms of ObamaCare. While other Republican governors opted out of the expansion as a partisan reflex, Sandoval and his advisers crunched numbers and made phone calls for weeks before arriving at the conclusion that, despite the Affordable Care Act’s countless shortcomings, it was too beneficial for Nevada in the short-term to pass up.

– Sandoval and Republicans expressed support for what has been a major Democratic Party cause: providing driver privilege cards to illegal immigrants.

– New state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, sat down with the folks of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada – they make Dennis Kucinich look conservative – and promised public education funding would not be subjected to further cuts.

– Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller announced he’s introduce a bill to require voters’ identities to be verified with photo identification at the polls. His plan is a middle-of-the-road compromise because it doesn’t put any burdens on voters to obtain and produce photo identification. His bill would require county registrars to store digital photographs of voters, either from Department of Motor Vehicles records of images taken at precincts, with other registration information. His fellow Democrats rejected the idea out of hand, and the party’s liberal base freaked out.

This is instructive in the run-up to Feb. 4, when the Legislature convenes.

It’s easy to accuse Republicans of being squishy sellouts because they’re in the minority in both the Assembly and the Senate. But they have Sandoval’s veto as a backstop. And Democrats lack the two-thirds supermajority required override a Sandoval veto.

What I have seen throughout this year is a consistent recognition from Republicans that they can’t achieve any of their policy goals without Democratic support. I have not seen that same recognition from Democrats, even though they’re in essentially the same position.

More than anything else, Nevada Democrats want more tax money to spend in Carson City. Lots more.

Two weeks ago, new Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and new Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, announced they’d launch a broad review of the state’s tax structure during the first week of the 2013 session, a discussion that will include lifting the constitutional cap on mining levies and the possibility of creating new taxes on businesses and services. Because Democrats have been scared to death to campaign for higher taxes and engage in debate over tax policy, this was a refreshing declaration.

But make no mistake, Democratic lawmakers will do everything they can to characterize their proposals as “reforms” and “restructuring” when the real goal is coming up with hundreds of millions of new dollars to pour into schools and social services.

They’ll need two-thirds support in both houses to win passage of those tax hikes. They’ll need at least three Republican votes in the Senate and one in the Assembly.

And those votes are there. They’ve always been there. The extremist, wacko GOP has provided the deciding votes for tax increases in 2003, 2009 and 2011. No doubt they’ll do the same in 2013. And they’ll be open to new taxes, too – for a price.

That’s where the giving and receiving comes into play again. Democrats won’t want to vote for government reforms as a trade for Republican votes for tax increases. Over the years, Democratic lawmakers have consistently taken the position that the state’s problems are rooted in a lack of tax revenue, not the structure and functions of government itself. They view collective bargaining, pension, election and education reforms as bad policy that they would never support for any amount of money.

I’m optimistic that with the even-handed Sandoval in the governor’s mansion, and Denis, Kirkpatrick, Roberson and new Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, working together as caucus leaders for the first time, significant policy trade-offs will be possible.

But if they don’t happen, it won’t be because Republicans were stubborn obstructionists. It will be because Democrats decided it’s better to receive than give.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

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