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Sandoval calls for lean, business-friendly gov't

By Cristina Silva

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 24 2011 8:50 p.m. MST

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Brian Sandoval unveiled his vision for a lean, business-friendly government Monday in a sweeping speech that also urged Nevadans to embrace hard, painful solutions to the state's deep recession.

"The Silver State has a long history of economic peaks and valleys, but the state of our state this evening should not be described as just another dip in the road," Sandoval said in his first State of State Speech since taking office this month. "Instead, we find ourselves on the new terrain of a changed global economy, and the crossing is hard."

Sandoval, 47, who took office with a promise to hold the tax rate steady amid record unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures, cast himself as the patriarch of a citizenry still reeling from an "economic earthquake" that has stifled consumer confidence and depressed the housing market.

"It is as if the collective Nevada family has gathered around the table — each member learning forward in his or her chair, eager to hear the news," he said. "In this time of sacrifice, our Nevada family looks to us for reassurance, for solutions and for leadership."

But if Sandoval hoped his familiar tone would reassure a state grappling with a 14.5 percent unemployment rate, his speech made clear who his favorite relatives were.

The Republican who promised on the campaign trail to rebuild Nevada by personally recruiting businesses to the low-tax state continued his pro-business message, at one point delivering a sales pitch directly to any out-of-state CEOs who might be listening.

"Nevada is a place you can call 'home' and 'headquarters' with equal measure," he said. "We love our state, and you will, too."

Sandoval, the state's first Hispanic governor, also unveiled his budget proposal Monday, calling on lawmakers to close a $1.2 billion deficit by returning many agencies to spending levels from 2007, before Nevada's tourism-rich economy began to crumble.

Sandoval reinforced his small-government philosophy by announcing a nearly 6 percent reduction in K-12 public school spending and a drop of nearly 18 percent in higher education spending.

He blamed incapable educators for the state's low graduation rates, lingering achievement gap and unsatisfactory test scores, and reprimanded those who blame such failures on inadequate funding instead of embracing reform. Sandoval proposed Nevada transform its schools — some of the worst in the country and among the most underfunded — by eliminating teacher tenure and social promotion, and promoting performance pay and vouchers to private schools.

"It is unacceptable that children in classrooms literally across the hall from one another achieve at dramatically different levels because of the quality of their teacher," he said.

At the university and college level, he championed higher tuition rates as a solution to uncompetitive degree programs and called for higher education leaders to dedicate 15 percent of those tuition increases toward financial aid for low-income students.

Critics have called on Sandoval to reconsider his no-tax pledge given the state's already austere funding of education, social services, infrastructure and other programs tied to Nevada's future financial health.

The Nevada Legislature is controlled by Democrats, but they lack two-third majorities required to pass new taxes or override a veto.

The Nevada Assembly's top Democrat offered tentative praise for Sandoval and promised cooperation.

"Governor, we agree with you on many of the issues you presented," Speaker-elect John Oceguera said in the Democratic response. "We are ready to begin working with you to achieve our goals."

But he suggested the budget problem needs more time to consider.

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