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politics be no federal stimulus funds to help the state through hard times (as there were in 2009), there will also not be the popular budget “gimmicks” that lawmakers have often used to raid local coffers. Although the constitution calls for a balanced budget — and any Nevada politician worth his or her salt will claim publicly to have “balanced the budget” — it’s always been a carefully constructed lie. The truth is this: While the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, Republican opposition and general cowardice have often prevented traditional tax increases, Nevada’s leaders have added revenue to the budget anyway by taking money from local governments, special funds or savings accounts. They haven’t called that money “taxes,” but it’s essentially the same thing. Nobody took the Economic Forum’s forecast, built a budget around that and cut what couldn’t be paid for; they fudged the numbers, moved money around and, when circumstance finally forced their hand, actually raised a tax or two. Is it possible the impact of Clean Water Coalition v. M Resort v. State of Nevada will reverberate into the future, as the moment when the state finally decided to be honest about its budgeting? The time when, denied access to local pots of money, state leaders decided to level with taxpayers and explain they cannot have all the things they want without first paying for them? Did the court’s ruling, as Erquiaga said, “forever change the way we budget in the state of Nevada”? After all, the state constitution prescribes a simple formula for spending: “... whenever the expenses of any year exceed the income, the legislature shall provide for levying a tax sufficient, with other sources of income, to pay the deficiency, as well as the estimated expenses of such ensuing year or two years.” There will always be some gimmickry in Nevada’s budgets. Taxes will always be a sore subject, especially when the economy is down and unemployment is up. But in 2011, Nevada finally faced up to the reality that state government costs money, and that there are some budget cuts too high to bear. That two diametrically opposed sides found agreement on that point is perhaps the best evidence for at least a little bit of optimism for the future. Besides, thanks to the state Supreme Court, we’re pretty much out of alternatives. Steve Sebelius is the Review-Journal’s political columnist and a member of KLAS TV Channel 8’s I-Team. He blogs at www.slashpolitics.com.
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