(Andrew Doughman/Nevada News Bureau) – Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, wanted honesty about the Legislature’s budget “end game,” and he got it.
At a legislative town hall featuring 21 lobbyists, lawmakers and business leaders, the candid comments from panelists seemed to suggest a looming budget compromise is a fool’s hope.
“You’re not going to get a tax increase through this Senate,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, one of the panelists. “You’re simply not going to get it.”
He clashed again with AFL-CIO lobbyist and co-panelist Danny Thompson. Now both men have said they are “offended” by what the other has said about collective bargaining. Roberson’s bill to change collective bargaining law died in committee last week.
Hickey gave each panelist about five minutes to speak, which was enough time for each panelist to repeat a few key talking points.
“It seemed business as usual,” said Jim Cooley, lobbyist for the Nevada Libertarian Party. “It was basically, ‘this is my pitch.'”
Each speaker brought his or her own expertise to the discussion. But the debate was framed by the needs and wants of each participant.
Washoe County Superintendent Heath Morrison called for education reforms paired with more funding than Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed in his general fund budget.
“We must improve education,” Morrison said. “Only by providing an educated workforce are businesses going to want to come to Nevada and stay in Nevada.”
Chuck Muth, conservative activist for Citizen Outreach, maintained his firm stance against new taxes.
“It is no longer sufficient to say that the government needs to do more with less,” Muth said. “It is time for us to start saying that the government needs to do less with less.”
Heidi Gansert, Sandoval’s chief of staff, did her best to put a new spin on the talking points representatives from the governor’s office have used to defend the budget since its January release.
“We recognize that there are some very difficult cuts,” Gansert said. “It’s time that we have to do that.”
Hickey organized the town hall meeting to bring a diverse crowd to one place to debate, as the title of the forum suggested, “the recession, revenues and Nevada’s recovery.” He said earlier that he wanted Nevada’s political players to put their “cards on the table.”
At least one lobbyist in the audience said he was discouraged that the cards the players revealed today were the same hands they were holding two months ago.
“I think it shows how firm both sides are in their positions, which means we probably are not playing for an end game in that first week of June,” said Paul Enos, a lobbyist for the Nevada Motor Transport Association.
Former Republican Sen. Randolph Townsend spoke at the event and channeled his colleague, former Republican Sen. Bill Raggio, in calling for more respect in the legislative debate.
“Deal only with the issue in front of you,” he said. “Don’t tie the issue to the person … the day you make it personal you lose … It’s a lot harder to become vitriolic when it’s somebody you know.”
Members of the public also joined by watching online or attending the town hall at the Legislature. Robert Stransbury, 64, is a retired teacher and Carson City resident who listened to the debate from the Legislature.
“I took away that there’s some very strong opinions on opposing sides,” he said. “I hope that they can agree and come together and get a budget.”
To that end, Townsend had some advice for the current legislators struggling to do more than cobble together a budget at the last minute.
“Once in awhile you have to walk out of the [legislative] building, breathe the clean air and try to get a different perspective, and right now that is what the building needs,” he said.
The 120-day legislative session is scheduled to end during the first week of June.