You can say the governor’s State of the State speech was an uninspired, unimaginative slog through an unimaginative, uninspired budget.
And you might be right. But so are they all (with few exceptions), and Brian Sandoval’s was no less or no more so than any of the others.
The governor loves the state, recognizes a few audience props, adores the children, wants to work with the Legislature and sees everyone living happily ever after in the great state of Nevada. Heard one….
Those who want him to raise taxes to spend more on education and social services (no margins for error?) will not be satisfied. Those who wanted him to spend less and reform education even more (vouchers, anyone?) will not be happy, either.
This is how it always is, and as I said in a column over the weekend for my premium subscribers, this was Sandoval’s combination of the Beatles -- it’s getting better all the time – and Stealers Wheel – stuck in the middle with you.
This is what we have heard for decades from governors, regardless of party, in speeches that are rarely memorable and often ephemeral. And afterwards, we hear whispers of discontent from the grumbling opposition, which then spends 120 days tinkering with the budget (note Gibbons asterisk) and then barely changes the executive branch’s spending plan.
So beyond all the snark from the left (Do more, you stiff!) and the bile from the right (You phony, tax-raising conservative!), the reaction to Sandoval’s speech was all too familiar and….dispiriting. This biennial show – boring speech followed by predictable bleats -- is like “Groundhog Day” without the happy ending.
The Democrats may think they have a lot to complain about -- a state devastated by the recession and not even close to made whole by this budget. But if they don’t like what the governor said, don’t talk about it:
Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis lamented that the governor did not boldly suggest doing more for education and for the state’s infrastructure and social services. They say the discussion of how the state raises and spends money begins the week of Feb.4, when Session ’13 begins.
I’ll believe it when I hear it. But it’s not enough to talk and then revert to the same old myopic, muzzled approach to the problem – the Democrats did it two years ago when they hectored the governor, hid the ball on taxes and then predictably did nothing.
If you don’t like what the governor said, then don’t talk about it. Don’t feint toward what you really believe in and then slink away.
Pass a revenue plan, restructuring plan, a tax plan, whatever you want to call it. Persuade enough Republicans to get to two-thirds and do it.
This is not a conservative budget, folks. It spends $700 million in the general fund above what the Economic Forum projected – that’s a 12 percent increase. And while Sandoval did not rely on the array of budget necromancy of ’11, there is plenty of legerdemain this time, too.
Beyond that $700 million, there is $400 million in money diverted from other funds and $100 million in prepayments of mines to balance the budget. This is the kind of three-card Monte budgeting that is endemic to Nevada and which lawmakers, at least some of them, have wailed about for years.
Sandoval even drained the Rainy Day Fund to ensure he didn’t have to break his no-new-taxes pledge, if you buy that allowing expiring taxes to continue is not an increase. That’s not conservative, either.
If you don’t like what the governor did there, Democrats, then don’t just criticize him for doing it. Don’t just shake your heads at the same old, same old.
Sandoval did put $135 million of new money into education, although much of that was to meet so called roll-up costs for new enrollees and benefits. But he at least made a commitment to all-day kindergarten and early intervention in English Language Learning, although both are relatively modest and are the proverbial first step, as he put it. And he put Nevada on the road to school choice with what amounts to a pilot program for vouchers.
That is all substantive stuff, although an argument could be made that he should have done more, especially because he is making all-day kindergarten available to some but not all children, even though the governor asserted the data says it works. (Sandoval says the superintendents tell him the space is not available for across the board all-day classes, but he could have proposed it and a building program, too, right?)
The Democrats can say Sandoval didn’t do enough, that all-day kindergarten should be universal, that the funding formula should be changed, that per pupil funding needs to be increased. They always say that. They rarely do anything.
The Democrats have a unique opportunity to do what they have rarely done, which is actually put our money where their mouths are. Sandoval is immensely popular and politically brilliant. But if the Democrats get two-thirds in each house – they would need to hold their caucuses and get a handful of GOP votes – they could make the governor irrelevant.
Rarely have there been such a dearth of effective voices of the right as a counterbalance in the Legislative Building, either. At one time, Ann O’Connell in the Senate was a respected voice of fiscal conservatism. And Bob Beers, while he had his detractors and often was rhetorically abrasive, was like a righty Svengali in the lower house.
Those days are gone. Who is the voice of the right now who can bring legislative coalitions to bear? He or she does not exist.
The outside forces of conservatism have been marginalized, too. The Nevada Policy Research Institute presents some provocative policy ideas, but its lambasting of the governor and sneering at Democrats vitiates its cause. And conservative activist Chuck Muth’s obsession with pummeling Sandoval and Senate Minority Leader Mike Roberson has muted his voice, along with his alliance with fringe types such as birther bloviater Wayne Allyn Root, who called the president a foreign exchange student and guaranteed Mitt Romney would win in landslide.
Yes, the chambers and Keystone Corp. crowd still hold some sway in the Legislative Building and may be able to hold some votes. But powerful voices on the right among the Gang of 63? I don’t hear many.
If the Democrats are serious – and Kirkpatrick INSISTS they are – they should pounce on the opportunity if they really have the courage of their complaints. They should get over their fears that the Republicans, hoping to take over both houses, will, with Sandoval’s help, let what could be an elevated discussion degenerate into binary banter: To tax or not to tax.
The clock starts ticking Feb. 4 for the Gang of 63. The governor’s speech, like almost all of them, will have faded into memory by then. So lawmakers will have a chance to do what they usually do – very little or nothing – or they can…..