Cathleen Allison, File, Associated Press
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Brian Sandoval concedes it could take until the end of his four-year term before "Nevada will be Nevada again."
On Monday, the newly elected governor unveils his blueprint on how a state ravaged by record unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies will claw its way out of the Great Recession. Sandoval took office vowing to close a budget gap of between $1 billion to $3 billion without raising taxes or imposing new fees. If economists estimates of the higher amount are correct it would be about equal to half the state's current general fund budget.
Critics scoff at the Republican governor's no tax stance. Someone will pay, one way or another. They say it's a matter of who and at what price.
Since he began his campaign to unseat former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, Sandoval, 47, has said consistently that he will veto any bill that includes a tax or fee increase.
The Economic Forum, an independent panel of financial business experts, has projected Nevada will have $5.3 billion to spend over the next two-year budget cycle that begins July 1. That's roughly 17 percent less than the current biennium.
Sandoval's State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature will focus on the bleeding budget, economic development and education.
"Those are the major components of the future of our state," he told reporters earlier this week. "You're going to see a different approach."
Sandoval said job creation is Nevada's ticket out of the recession, and he said businesses are waiting to see what tax policies come out of the 2011 Legislature.
"They like the fact Nevada wants to be unlike other states that are over-regulated and over-taxed," Sandoval said. "But they appreciate there's a legislative session coming up."
Both the Senate and Assembly are controlled by Democrats, though they lack two-third majorities required to pass new taxes or override a veto.
Sandoval dismissed suggestions that the quality of Nevada's public school system deters new businesses from locating in the Silver State.
"Yes, I agree it's unacceptable that we lead the country in dropout rates," Sandoval said. "Yes, we need to improve, but there's some great schools as well.
"I think businesses appreciate that we recognize there's an issue and I'm going to be pushing forward with a very aggressive plan to improve the delivery of education in the state of Nevada," he said.
Sandoval has talked of tough choices and shared sacrifice — warning state workers that he will propose 5 percent salary cuts instead of furloughs, and telling cash-strapped local governments they'll be asked to take over services now provided by the state, or contribute more of their own tax revenues to the state.
"We're looking at where services are most appropriately provided," Sandoval said, adding that consolidating agencies "will result in the elimination of some positions."
Employee groups argue state workers have borne the brunt of budget cuts over the past two years, when salary cuts combined with higher health and retirement contributions reduced actual wages about 10 percent.
The governor's rigidity over taxes has frustrated advocates for the poor, labor groups and educators, who say talking about cuts without considering the state's sources of revenue that are heavily dependent on sales and casino taxes — sources highly vulnerable to economic volatility — ignores a crucial side of the budget equation.
"The only people we see sacrificing are teachers, children, students, seniors and the disabled," said Jan Gilbert, with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "Everyone except those businesses that aren't paying very much in taxes."
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