Nevada budget talks fragile; gov meets with GOP
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – Gov. Brian Sandoval met with Republican lawmakers Tuesday to try to broker a fragile budget deal and bring the 2011 Legislature to a close with less than a week left before adjournment.
After morning meetings with the Senate and Republican caucuses, Sandoval said talks were continuing and he remained optimistic a compromise could be reached.
But whether it would come in time to beat a June 6 deadline for the Legislature to end was unknown.
“There’s not a final deal,” the governor said. “There’s a lot of things on the table that are being discussed.”
A breakthrough of sorts came late Monday when the Senate approved amendments and passed two bills containing tougher education reforms involving teacher tenure.
“Those education bills were amended as we had proposed,” Sandoval said.
Some Assembly Republicans are pressing for reforms in construction defect lawsuits and prevailing wages paid on public works projects in exchange for supporting the extension of taxes that are set to expire.
Republicans argue state law caters to trial lawyers who solicit clients to sue then earn huge attorneys’ fees in class-action construction lawsuits. The legal hassles, they say, are pushing small construction firms out of business.
Prevailing wages, based on average pay in a region for certain trades, are set for public works projects. Critics argue union rates elevate those wages, making such projects more expensive and limiting available jobs.
“It’s not to say we’re not negotiating,” Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, said after emerging from a caucus meeting with the governor.
“It’s all a package,” Hardy said, “all up in the air.”
But Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said Democrats are done with concessions, and that the education reforms could unravel unless Republicans drop those demands.
“All that is at risk at this point,” Oceguera said. “I think the governor needs to talk to his people now.”
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, a Sparks Democrat and chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, said she understands the frustration of some over construction reforms, but added those policy issues should not be linked to the immediate budget concern.
“How in the world do you justify holding up the state budget?” she said.
Budget negotiations continued throughout the Memorial Day holiday weekend after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled last week the state can’t siphon money from local agencies and governments.
Officials put the effect of the ruling at about $656 million.
Talks were focusing on temporary taxes set to expire June 30 worth roughly $679 million.
Under the state Constitution, the Legislature must end by 1 a.m. June 7. While there were still six days to go, the calendar is not kind to the logistics involved in printing up a huge budget bill and getting it before both chambers.
“We’re pushing the envelope right now,” Smith said.