Sandoval: Horsford rhetoric “doesn’t bother me at all”

If being lumped with "extreme right-wing interests" bothers Gov. Brian Sandoval, he doesn’t show it.

Sandoval on Thursday responded to an e-mail blast from Senate majority leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, that blamed potential cuts to state spending on education on "extreme right-wing interests" seeking to "use the budget crisis to dismantle our state."

Sandoval, a Republican, won office in November on a promise to balance the state general fund budget without raising taxes, even if it means big spending cuts that wouldn’t spare education or social services.

Horsford has argued before the legislature that gambling and other industries in Nevada should pay more taxes in order to better fund education and social services.

In the e-mail Thursday, which linked to a Web page where people could sign up for a newsletter from the senator, Horsford returned to the theme: "I did not enter public service to slash funding for our schools or leave our most vulnerable citizens without care. That’s why I will fight every day to protect Nevada families from the extreme agenda that threatens our future."

During a press conference Sandoval called to announce the appointment of Jerry Tao as a Clark County district Judge, the governor responded to questions about the strong language in Horsford’s e-mail that comes just weeks before the legislature convenes.

Sandoval wasn’t riled by Horsford’s harsh tone. He said he has "great respect" for Horsford and noted that Horsford, Assembly speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas and other legislative leaders dined at the governor’s mansion Monday following inauguration ceremonies on the Capitol steps.

"Rhetoric doesn’t bother me at all," Sandoval said. "People can describe things any way they would like. I’m getting to work. For me it is a matter of working together and moving forward. We are going to have some differences but we are going to work together in the future."

The political postures of Horsford and Sandoval are significant because each man faces significant challenges in accomplishing his policy goals.

Sandoval has promised again and again he can balance the budget even though projected revenue for 2011-13 of $5.3 billion is about 17 percent lower than the $6.4 billion in revenue for the 2009-11 biennium. Sandoval needs to figure out a way to make good on his promise without cutting services so deeply that Nevada voters, who elected the Republican in a landslide victory over Democrat Rory Reid, turn against him.

If Horsford wants leverage to call his own shots on the budget he needs to find a way to build a coalition of senators big enough to override potential Sandoval vetoes.

Democrats have an 11-10 advantage in the Senate and Horsford needs 14 votes to form a super-majority. If he wanted to override Sandoval and enact a budget with tax increases he would need all the Democrats and three Republicans to get on board.

Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, was thought to be among Republicans who might support a tax increase, but he announced his resignation Wednesday. Also, it isn’t clear Horsford can even get all the Democrats behind a tax increase.

Sen. John Lee, D-Las Vegas, has signaled he isn’t convinced a tax increase is necessary.

"If I was signaling anything … it would be I’m not for raising taxes," Lee said recently.

And when asked about the Horsford e-mail on Thursday Lee said he hadn’t seen it. He added that Horsford’s opinion isn’t universally shared among Senate Democrats.

"He was speaking I’m sure for himself, not for the caucus," Lee said. "This is not a caucus position right now."

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