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Sandoval says no more education cuts

Sandra Chereb

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Tuesday he won't cut education or other vital state services in his upcoming budget proposal and he will extend sunsetting taxes to balance the books _ a move he said will avoid the need for additional taxes to fund state government.

"I'm not going to cut K-12 or higher education," the first-term Republican told reporters after a Board of Examiners meeting.

Republicans _ some who bucked the popular governor last year _ expressed their support for his plan, while Democrats said it falls short of the state's needs, especially for education.

"What we need are long-term solutions to resolving our budget problems, not postponing them for another two years," said state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. "We must address tax fairness for middle class families, cut wasteful spending in our government and provide Nevada business with an educated workforce that can compete in the national and global marketplace."

Sandoval campaigned on a no-tax stance and took heat from conservative members of his party when he agreed late in the 2011 legislative session to keep about $620 million in temporary taxes that were set to expire.

Some critics on Tuesday appeared to fall in step with the popular governor, at least in theory, while others said his proposal was wrong.

"In 2010, Gov. Sandoval stated that raising taxes is `the worst possible thing you can do' after a recession," said Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank. "His statement is as correct today as it was then _ raising taxes on job creators is exactly the wrong thing to do in the aftermath of a recession.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, voted against last year's budget largely because of the extension of taxes that would have expired June 30, 2011. On Tuesday, Roberson said he would support the governor's budget blueprint, tax extensions and all.

"I am cognizant that right now, that includes needing the revenue from the taxes due to sunset," he told The Associated Press. "I will not support additional cuts to public education."

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, the minority caucus leader in the lower house, also said he agreed with Sandoval's position that the state cannot afford any more cuts to education. The state-funded portion of K-12 spending was cut about 9 percent during the last session, and state support for universities and community colleges was reduced 15 percent.

"Nevada's recovery is still fragile and is certainly gradual," Hickey said when reached for comment. "I agree with the governor that education, especially in lieu of reforms that were adopted and cuts that have been made in recent cycles, cannot warrant another hit."

Hickey added that the budget process is just beginning, and suggested lawmakers would not give blanket approval to extending taxes until they've reviewed the budget in detail next year.

Sandoval said his budget direction means "there will be no need for tax increases in the next session."

Danny Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO who is heading up a petition proposal to implement a margins tax on businesses, said Sandoval's announcement would not deter those efforts.

"With cuts that have already been made, if you fund education at the current level, it's already in the toilet," Thompson said. "We're going forward with what we're going to do and let the people decide."

That initiative has not yet been filed with the secretary of state's office. Backers would have to collect more than 72,000 signatures by Nov. 13 to send the issue to the 2013 Legislature. At that point, if lawmakers reject it or fail to act, it would automatically go to voters in 2014.

Two other tax initiatives _ one to raise casino taxes and another to increase the cap mining companies pay on minerals _ have been proposed but are facing legal challenges.

Sandoval's acquiescence last year to extend tax increases came after the Nevada Supreme Court raised doubts about the legality of taking tax dollars from local governments to fund state government, as Sandoval had proposed in his original budget.

Lawmakers eventually passed a $6.2 billion general fund spending plan. On Tuesday, the governor said he will propose a "flat budget" for the biennium that begins July 1, 2013.

Sandoval's comments to reporters came two days before his budget director, Jeff Mohlenkamp, is to meet with Cabinet officials to lay out the governor's spending preferences.

"We're going into this `cards up,'" Sandoval said as the budget planning begins.

Though the governor said he will extend once again the temporary tax increases first passed in 2009, he will propose retaining a tax break for about 115,000 small businesses that make less than $250,000 a year.

"I believe at this point in time, it is the responsible thing to do for the state of Nevada," Sandoval said of his decision to continue the temporary taxes.

Sandoval said education, health and human services, and public safety account for 90 percent of the state's general fund. He said Nevada's Medicaid rolls are projected to grow as federal health reforms take effect, and any gains in sales and other tax revenues likely will be eaten up by those services.

The Associated Press