CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Brian Sandoval met with student protesters camped out on the Capitol complex Wednesday, bringing doughnuts and conversation but no softening in his stance that raising taxes to avoid deep cuts to education and human services was wrong for the state.
The students and other human service advocates set up a compound dubbed "Sandoville" on Monday for a three-day protest to meet with legislators and express support for a $1.2 billion tax package backed by Democrats.
The first-term Republican governor huddled around a picnic table to listen to students' concerns and pleas for more education funding. Sandoval's $6.1 billion budget plan would cut annual state support for higher education by $162 million by 2013.
The discussion fell along hard lines, with the governor emphasizing that economic recovery has to precede budget add-backs and protesters saying the state cannot wait for a recovery to fund the essentials.
"We came here not because we had nothing to do. This is serious business," University of Nevada, Reno student Carla Castedo told the governor.
Another student told Sandoval they were struggling with last-century's math and science textbooks. Johan Kinney, who attends Western Nevada College, said his emptying campus was "heartbreaking" as he sees his friends being laid off.
Despite the pleas, Sandoval told the crowd his priorities are the right ones for Nevada.
Sandoval campaigned on a no-new-tax stance and has stood firm, saying raising taxes or fees would stifle economic recovery. The Great Recession has left Nevada with record joblessness, foreclosures and bankruptcies.
He said his visit a day earlier to a solar array manufacturer in North Las Vegas was proof that things are on the right track. Company officials told him they came to Nevada because of its friendly business environment and potential for renewable energy development.
"These aren't easy decisions," he said about the budget cuts.
The amicable meeting ended with students chanting, "wake up, Sandoval."
Castedo said she was frustrated after the meeting with Sandoval and Republican lawmakers over the last three days.
"We confront them with real issues and real people, and they still don't understand it," she said. "It's always, 'I'm working toward it. I'm working toward it.' Well, do something about it."
Kyle George, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Graduate and Professional Student Association, was equally nonplussed.
"We've had an opportunity to meet with the governor before, and I think this is a similar meeting. We didn't make any ground. But again, we had a conversation, and you know we always said that having a conversation was the first step in the process," he said.
"Unfortunately, it's the second time we've done it, so we're still on the first step," he told The Associated Press.
George said he wasn't wholly discouraged.
He said this week's campaign may have moved the needle incrementally, as seen by an impromptu hallway caucus with Republican legislators about education on Tuesday.
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George said it was "the first real meeting we've had" with Republicans. "We've invited them to other events to talk with us and in general it hasn't been very fruitful until this trip," he said.
But he didn't see it changing the volley of a Democrat-approved and governor-vetoed budget process for the higher education system. Legislative money panels were closing higher education budgets Wednesday.
"If K-12 is any indication, it's going to be a favorable budget for us, and the governor is going to veto it," George said. "And at that point, we have to figure out what to do next."