Editorial: Commerce tax is unnecessary and burdensome

Gov. Brian Sandoval has been crying about a paper cut as though it were an amputation.

Ever since Attorney General Adam Laxalt stated that he would run for governor next year and one of his platform positions would be the repeal of the 2015 commerce tax, Sandoval has been lobbing brickbats, even though Laxalt suspended his campaign announcement just hours after the Mandalay Bay shooting massacre that left 58 dead and about 500 injured at an outdoor country music concert.

“Anyone supporting a repeal of the Commerce Tax must explain to Nevada’s children, families and businesses which education initiatives will be cut if it is eliminated,” Sandoval wailed in a statement reported by the website Nevada Independent. “Will they cut gifted and talented programs, end all-day kindergarten, eliminate special education resources, decrease literacy programs that help students read by third grade, cut autism funding, stop career and technical education, and get rid of technology in schools grants? Any discussion of eliminating this revenue source must include answers about where in the budget they will cut.”

The commerce tax is a tax on gross receipts on all businesses grossing more than $4 million a year. It has different tax tables for 27 different industries — ranging from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation — and there are 67 different tax brackets. It is costing businesses untold millions to comply with all the paperwork needed to enforce and collect the tax and the state must spend millions to enforce tax compliance.

Lawmakers passed the commerce tax at Sandoval’s urging as part of his $1.5 billion tax increase, even though the voters in November 2014 rejected a commerce tax at the ballot box by 79 percent to 21 percent.

In May the Economic Forum, which is tasked with estimating state general fund revenues so lawmakers can dodge blame for overestimating, found the state would rake in $140 million more than anticipated this year. The commerce tax raised a mere $190 million, meaning that with just a $50 million nip and tuck in the budget the tax could be eliminated and the budget balanced.

It should be further noted that the general fund budget grew 12.3 percent over the previous two years, while inflation amounted to 2.5 percent. Since 2011 the state general fund budget has grown by 32.3 percent, while inflation amounted to 7.9 percent.

Sandoval, who is term-limited and may not seek re-election, continued his tirade at a meeting in Las Vegas this past week where he told reporters, “I think if somebody’s going to make a proposal like that, they’ve got to stand in a schoolroom with a room full of parents and teachers and be able to explain who they’re going to cut.”

He asked rhetorically whether the cuts would be special education, gifted and talented, technology or something else.

Apparently no one pointed out to him that Nevada has increased K-12 public school funding by 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation, over the past four decades, during which student test scores have actually fallen slightly.

Might other things besides education be trimmed? Might the growth in overall state spending ever be curbed?

Didn’t lawmakers just agree to spending $750 million in tax money to build a domed football stadium? Hasn’t the state doled out $1.7 billion in tax credits to Tesla, Amazon, Switch and other billion-dollar companies?

If Sandoval is so concerned about priorities, he could look at the total budget.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

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Newspaper column: Bill would limit power to create national monuments

Gold Butte National Monument (BLM pix)

The House Committee on Natural Resources this past week approved a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop to rein in the powers granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allow a president to unilaterally create huge national monuments.

The bill advanced on a party line vote of 27-13, with Democrats in opposition.

The bill, H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, amends the Antiquities Act to limit the size of future monuments and specifically grants the sitting president the power to reduce the size of existing monuments — a power Democrats have argued President Trump does not have under current law.

During his administration President Obama created 26 national monuments totaling more than 500 million acres — including the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument on the border of Lincoln and Nye counties and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County.

President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review recent monument designations and Zinke sent a memo to the president recommending the reduction in size of six of those, including Gold Butte. The president has not yet acted on those recommendations.

Bishop’s bill would allow the president to unilaterally reduce the size of any monument by 85,000 acres — and by more with the consent of affected counties and states.

The bill would allow a president in the future to create a new monument unilaterally, but only up to 640 acres. Anything larger than that, up to 10,000 acres, would require an environmental review. Anything between 10,000 and 85,000 acres, the apparent size cap on new monuments, would require approval of counties and state officials, as well as the governor.

“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of our nation’s public lands,” Bishop was quoted as saying. “Designations are no longer made for scientific reasons or archaeological value but for political purposes. Unfortunately, overreach in recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress’ duty to clarify the law and end the abuse.”

Like the Natural Resources Committee, Nevada’s congressional delegation is divided along party lines when it comes to national monuments. The four Democrats have all objected bitterly and volubly to reducing the size of Nevada’s monuments.

But its two Republican delegates in January introduced legislation that would prevent future designations of monuments in Nevada without the consent of Congress — the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22).

The legislation introduced by Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” Their bill would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

In response to Bishop’s bill passing the committee, a Heller press aide sent out a comment, “Unilateral federal land grabs in a state like Nevada where the federal government already owns 85 percent of our land should not be permitted. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations, and that is why I’ve introduced legislation that prevents last year’s land grab under the Obama administration from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to see that it is signed into law.”

Congressman Amodei said in January before Trump’s inauguration, “I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Bishop’s proposal also declares that existing water and land rights are to preserved despite a monument designation.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Uneducated ‘students’ drown out speech on free speech on campus

Students protest a presentation by the American Civil Liberties Association. (Pix by The Flat Hat)

Once again uneducated hooligans used the heckler’s veto to shut down a speech on a college campus. This time, appropriately enough, it was a speech a couple of weeks ago by an ACLU executive about free speech.

Students supposedly linked to the so-called Black Lives Matter movement at the College of William & Mary in Virginia chanted, shouted and held up signs for an hour preventing anyone for hearing the speech by Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU’s Virginia chapter.

The students chanted idiotic slogans such as: “ACLU, free speech for who?” “The oppressed are not impressed,” “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too,” “Blood on your hands,” “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “Your free speech hides beneath white sheets.”

When students later tried to approach the ACLU speaker after it was clear the speech would not be allowed, the protesters yelled louder and prevented even that conversation.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the college out a statement saying, “We do not want any event to be ended early or shut down because someone disagrees with the views of the speaker or is attempting to prevent speech and questions by those attending. We must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue. We are reviewing our planning and protocols and taking measures to prevent this from happening again” But the college, citing privacy laws, refused to be specific about what, if any, punishment might to handed down.

 

Among the more hare-brained comments from an alleged leader of the speech protesters was this: “The ACLU and liberals believe that legality determines morality. Not too long ago, the Constitution dictated that black people only counted as three-fifths of a person. The Constitution cannot be your moral compass. In contrast to the ACLU, we want to reaffirm our position of zero tolerance for white supremacy no matter what form it decides to masquerade in.”

In other words, they will not tolerate intolerance, apparently not having a clue that such tactics cut both ways and can be used against them, too. They apparently totally misunderstand the significance of the concept of free speech as a tool to win an argument instead of a war. Dismissing the precepts of the Constitution simply because its drafters had to compromise on slavery is tantamount to refusing to hear or heed anyone but the pure of heart.

The free speech the students are denying is what has allowed the mindset of the country to evolve over the years. They are fighting for civil rights that were won half a century ago. The instances of abuse are now rare, but the children have taken up a self-defeating argument under false assumptions about a handful of incidents. By gawd, they have seen injustice and it is theirs — to make their petty lives meaningful.

A little education about wise words from more than century prior to the Constitution might be in order:

And though all the windes of doctrin were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licencing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falshood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the wors, in a free and open encounter. Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing. … When a man hath bin labouring the hardest labour in the deep mines of knowledge, hath furnisht out his findings in all their equipage, drawn forth his reasons as it were a battell raung’d, scatter’d and defeated all objections in his way, calls out his adversary into the plain, offers him the advantage of wind and sun, if he please; only that he may try the matter by dint of argument, for his opponents then to sculk, to lay ambushments, to keep a narrow bridge of licencing where the challenger should passe, though it be valour anough in souldiership, is but weaknes and cowardice in the wars of Truth. For who knows not that Truth is strong next to the Almighty; she needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licencings to make her victorious … — John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644, a speech for the Liberty of unlicenc’d Printing

Nor vulgar protesters claiming to already grasp the truth.

 

 

 

Pruitt ends another costly Obama era EPA practice

It’s about damned time.

EPA administration Scott Pruitt said today his agency is ending the practice that has come to be known as “sue and settle” — in which self-styled environmental sue the government over some feigned failure to protect something or stop some viable economic activity and the government caves without putting up a fight.

“We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the Agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Scott Pruitt, head of EPA

As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt was involved in many such lawsuits.

Pruitt said that when a settlement is being considered the EPA will discuss the matter with affected states and communities.

 

Back in 2014 we lamented the “sue and settle” practices of the Obama administration.

The previous fall, the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated as threatened — under the terms of the Endangered Species Act — the bi-state greater sage grouse found along the northern California-Nevada border, supposedly a distinct population segment of about 5,000 remaining birds, even though the birds are legally hunted in both states.

That decision followed an October 2010 lawsuit filed by the Western Watersheds Project challenging grazing permits granted by the Bureau of Land Management.

In the spring of 2014 the FWS designated as threatened the lesser prairie chicken, which are found in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico and Kansas.

Wild Earth Guardians sued the FWS in 2010 demanding rapid action on the listing status of 251 species. FWS caved.

A Mono Basin bi-state sage grouse

Under the settlement, FWS was also to decide whether to list the greater sage grouse, which are found in 11 Western states, by September 2015. What do you think the odds are? Fortunately, that never happened, though the Obama administration issued a massive and draconian set of land use plans meant to protect the chicken-sized birds. Recently, Pruitt’s EPA rescinded those plans

Many of the causes of Western species decline have nothing to due with farming, ranching, oil and gas exploration or recreation, but with incompetent land management by the federal agencies, which have ignored fuel management practices and allowed vast wildfires to ravage the ranges. Additionally, there a lack of predator control, one of the biggest problems for most of the species in question, but a factor ignored by the feds.

 

During the four decades of the Endangered Species Act less than 2 percent of listed species have been delisted. Once on the list they are on the list forever.

Pruitt appears to be correcting many of the errors of his predecessor.

 

 

Stadium naming rights? Or just a ruse to dole out corporate welfare?

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority shelling out $80 million over 20 years — $4 million a year — for naming rights for a Summerlin baseball stadium for a minor league team might not have been such a good idea.

At least that’s the opinion of two Las Vegas newspaper columnist and a letter writer in the Sunday edition.

News columnist Victor Joecks points out that for $4 million a year the LVCVA could’ve purchased the naming rights for almost every one of the 15 other ballparks in the Pacific Coast League in which the Las Vegas’ 51s compete. He also said his review of  more than 250 stadiums, fields and arenas found that no other government agency is paying to name a sports venue.

Business columnist Richard Vellota suggests that the whole deal comes across as corporate welfare for the Howard Hughes Corp., owners of the 51s and builders of the new stadium next to the company’s Downtown Summerlin.

A letter writer questions blowing that much money on a ballpark when education could use the money.

Velotta also points out just how lame the whole naming rights ruse really is. It will be called the Las Vegas Ballpark. Like no one would know what town they are in? Like they are going to call the team the Summerlin 51s?

Joecks calls the whole deal a farce and comments, “This whole fiasco makes more sense if you view the $80 million as a construction subsidy. Even for the LVCVA, it’d be hard to justify giving a private business tens of millions of tax dollars. Calling it a ‘naming rights’ deal, however, gave the proposal a thin initial layer of credibility.”

A thin and transparent veneer, indeed.

Rendering via R-J

 

Editorial: Tax reform that could benefit Nevadans slipping away

It looks like a tax reform proposal that could have resulted in lower income tax rates for Nevadans is swirling down the drain.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that congressional Republicans are considering jettisoning a part of President Trump’s proposal that would eliminate IRS deductions for state and local taxes. Dropping the deduction would generate $1.3 trillion in additional federal revenue, thus allowing lower rates for the 70 percent of Americans who do not itemize and take the standard deduction.

While Democrats insist tax reform should in no way benefit the wealthy, the retention of the state and local tax deduction does precisely that for the wealthy who live in Democrat-controlled high tax states, such as New York and California.

The Times conceded that Californians benefit more from the state and local tax deduction than taxpayers in any other state. In fact Californians managed to dodge $101 billion in taxes in 2014 — New York, New Jersey and Illinois were next on the list of top tax dodgers. Of the top 10 states for the deduction, Trump carried only three.

The New York Times also is reporting that some Republican spines are weakening, noting that elimination of the deduction has Republicans in high-tax states worried about backlash from voters whose tax bills might rise.

The newspaper said that Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican, said in an interview that party leaders had assured him “there’s not going to be full repeal” of the state and local tax deduction. The paper also quoted Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, as saying the deduction was not a “red line.”

Using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, Californians who filed for state and local income tax deductions claimed deductions of $10,700 per return. Nevadans who filed for the state and local sales tax deduction claimed only $1,430 per return. Calculated on a per capita basis, Californians claimed $2,116 in federal income tax deductions, while Nevadans claimed only $166 per person for sales tax deductions.

Nevadans — along with residents of New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota and Alaska — get to deduct about 1 percent or less of their adjusted gross income, while those who live in New York, Maryland, D.C. and California deduct more than 5 percent.

“Republicans have said the deduction largely affects the wealthy and is unfair to residents in lower-tax states,” the Los Angeles newspaper reported. “Eliminating the break would help simplify the tax code and make it more equitable, White House officials said.”

In 1985 Ronald Reagan argued for eliminating the state and local tax deduction. He said in a speech: “We’re reducing tax rates by simplifying the complex system of special provisions that favor some at the expense of others. Restoring confidence in our tax system means restoring and respecting the principle of fairness for all. This means curtailing some business deductions now being written off; it means ending several personal deductions, including the state and local tax deduction, which actually provides a special subsidy for high-income individuals, especially in a few high-tax states. Two-thirds of Americans don’t even itemize, so they receive no benefit from the state and local tax deduction. But they’re being forced to subsidize the high-tax policies of a handful of states. This is truly taxation without representation.”

Reagan failed, primarily because there were too many Republican lawmakers from New York and California, just as there are today. California has 14 Republicans in the House and New York has nine.

If Congress caves in to the few who want to keep their lucrative state and local tax deductions, it is unlikely the 70 percent of Americans who currently do not itemize can be afforded a doubling of the standard deduction as is currently being contemplated.

The tax code should be fair and equitable for all and not carve out breaks for some.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.