MORNING LINE: The 2009 Legislature and the temptation to do nothing

   The Nevada Legislature opens today in Carson City with plenty of criticism of Gov. Jim Gibbons’ $6.2 billion proposed budget, which is about 9 percent lower than the current budget.

  If the Legislature follows his plan, which has been vilified for its Dickensian treatment of teachers, children, the poor, and mentally ill, that means government will have to be cut, salaries will have to be trimmed.

  To date, Democratic leaders Barbara Buckley and Steven Horsford have refused to talk about raising taxes, even on the state’s enormously prosperous mining industry. They have instead said they will work on cutting tax breaks and closing loopholes.

  Which won’t balance the budget without substantial cuts in services, I suspect.

  The questions to ponder for the next few months: Will a new tax structure be presented to the Legislature? Will both sides of the debate actually step forward to reach a solution? Will Gibbons move away from his no new taxes pledge? (Not much of a chance of that.)

  Will Nevada’s economy worsen, forcing both sides to butcher the budget and go home with blood on their aprons? (It’s likely.)

  Will the Democrats win the equivalent of a half-court shot at the buzzer by garnering a boatload of “stimulus package” money to help make ends meet for another two years?

  The temptation to do nothing, to attempt no substantive long-range changes and by doing so take no political risks, will be great.

  Gibbons, dumb like a fox, has already made good on his Maytag Repairman’s promise not to raise taxes (although he’s choosing to ignore a certain increase in hotel room taxes.) Because he chooses to play checkers, his strategy is simple.

  The Democrats, meanwhile, must play a little chess. They are crying in outrage much the way they have during all those years when they weren’t in the Legislature’s driver’s seat. But when you say you care about the people, the challenge is to stand up for those people and fight for those people. This time, even in this horrible economy, the Democrats will have to step up and sell their vision.

  The temptation to do nothing is great. The cost of doing nothing is unacceptable.

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