Nevada Budget Battle

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

Nevada lawmakers hiked back and forth from the legislative building to the governor's office and held closed caucus meetings in between as negotiations continued to solve the state's budget crisis, but there was no resolution by late Sunday.

"No white smoke tonight," said Democratic Assembly Speaker
John Oceguera, of Las Vegas, after returning from one of several
trips to the governor's office.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, described
the talks as cordial and said more meetings with Republican Gov.
Brian Sandoval were scheduled Monday.

Sandoval and legislators have been meeting all weekend to patch
together a budget after a Nevada Supreme Court ruling poked holes
in tactics used to balance Sandoval's $6.1 billion spending plan.

The focus of discussions now is on extending the sunset on taxes
that were approved in 2009 and are set to expire June 30. That
would bring in about $679 million.

"Since Friday, we have met a number of times to discuss the
impact of the Supreme Court's decision, the need for reforms in our
state and the best possible route to completing the legislative
process by June 6," Sandoval said in a written statement late
Sunday. "I have always believed in Nevadans' ability to come
together when it matters most. In keeping with that tradition,
legislative leadership and I will continue to work toward a
solution."

Until Thursday's Supreme Court ruling sent shock waves through
state government, Republicans, including the governor, were dead
set against extending the expiring taxes. Now that the taxes are
seen as the only way out of the budget mess, Republicans are
demanding reforms to education, collective bargaining and
construction defect lawsuits in exchange for their support.

"There's a long list of things" being discussed, Dale Erquiaga, senior aide to Sandoval, told reporters who followed Democratic leaders to a closed meeting with the governor.

Reforming construction defect litigation statutes has become a
sticking point with some Republicans, who claim state law caters to
trial lawyers who solicit clients to sue and then earn huge
attorneys' fees.

In a unanimous ruling Thursday, justices said it was unconstitutional for the state to sweep $62 million from a southern Nevada clean water fund in 2010 to help pad revenues and close an $805 million deficit. While the decision focused on that money grab, it called into question tactics Sandoval relied on to balance his budget proposal, such as taking money from school bond reserve accounts and counties.

Administration officials estimate the ruling could affect $657 million of Sandoval's budget.

Despite the upheaval, Republicans, Democrats and the administration were optimistic a budget deal could be reached in
time for the Legislature to adjourn June 6.

The budget negotiations delayed floor sessions Sunday in both
the Assembly and Senate. Monday is the deadline for bills to pass
out of the second house or perish.


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