Editorial: State budget could use some belt tightening

The members of the Nevada Economic Forum met earlier this month and came up with a forecast for how much the total state general fund revenues will be for the next two years.

The Economic Forum was created by lawmakers in 1993. It is responsible for providing forecasts of revenues for each upcoming biennial budget period. The figures are binding on the governor and the Legislature in crafting a budget, so they don’t wildly overestimate potential revenue and cause a budget crisis when funds come up short.

The forum members reported that the past two-year’s revenues turned out to be $8.244 billion and the coming two-year period should generate 7.2 percent more funds or $8.835 billion, after application of all applicable tax credits, of which there are a number.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Brain Sandoval has already drafted a budget for the next biennium, which will be handed over to incoming Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the majority Democratic lawmakers, who take office in January. Of course, they all appear to anticipate spending every last dime of that $591 million windfall even though current inflation is running only 2.5 percent.

Much of the anticipated money is being targeted for expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare and various education spending schemes.

After the Economic Forum issued its forecast, Sisolak gave a statement to the press saying, “I am encouraged by how the state is performing. I look forward to reviewing the final forecast released by the Economic Forum and creating a roadmap to implement the priorities that matter to Nevadans. I am committed to building a bright future for our state and that starts with building a budget that funds the initiatives that will get us there.”

May we be so brazen as to suggest that taxpayers might appreciate an “initiative” that lets them keep a bit more of their paychecks. Or at the very least pour more of that anticipated-but-not-guaranteed revenue into the rainy day savings account for that time in the future when the outlook is not so rosy, because everyone knows that once government spends a certain amount of money it expects to continue to do so in perpetuity.

For the record, from 2011 to 2017 the state general fund budget grew by 32.3 percent, while inflation amounted to 7.9 percent.

Though we know we are whistling in the Democratic wind, we also suggest that the burdensome commerce tax passed in 2015 as part of Sandoval’s $1.5 billion tax hike be repealed. The tax was imposed even though the voters in November 2014 rejected a commerce tax at the ballot box by 79 percent to 21 percent. The commerce tax is expected to generate only $445 million in the coming biennium and could be covered by that extra $591 million in the projection.

Every Nevada business must file a commerce tax form with the state, even if the business owes no tax. For many, compliance costs exceed the taxes owed. That is a hidden tax on the state economy and retards job growth.

Lawmakers should think about the burden on taxpayers as well as the beneficiaries of their customarily spendthrift ways.

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.

Newspaper column: Whither renewable power after wind farm rejected?

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area, with Crescent Peak in the background. (Basin and Range Watch pix)

The Bureau of Land Management has rejected a bid by a Swedish firm to construct a mammoth wind turbine project on the Nevada side of the border with California near Searchlight.

The Crescent Peak Wind Project was to have covered 32,000 acres of public land with as many as 220 wind turbines standing 400 to 600 feet tall and generating 500 megawatts of power. The proposed site is adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountain National Monument in California and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness and the South McCullough Wilderness in Nevada.

While the vast majority of the arguments against the project were based on probable environmental and ecosystem damages, some of the reasons given by the Nevada office of the BLM for denial were actually ones about economics and, perhaps most importantly, air traffic safety.

While the land agency said the project did not conform with the area resource management plan, it also cited other concerns. “These issues include that access to the turbines would potentially affect the development of more than 300 mining claims; the turbines could interfere with radar at two regional air facilities — one military and one civilian; and impacts to the visual landscape,” said Nevada BLM in a statement obtained by Basin and Range Watch.

Such air facilities include McCarran International Airport, a gateway to Clark County’s profitable, job-generating gambling resorts, and Nellis Air Force Base, a key element in the nation’s air defense training that includes air combat and bombing practice ranges that cover a vast swath of central Nevada.

The original denial letter, from the assistant secretary of the Interior Department, also obtained by Basin and Range, mentioned the potential for “a significant threat to military operations” at China Lake Naval Air base 150 miles away in California.

If such turbines can’t be located within 150 miles of such air facilities, where in Nevada, with all its commercial and military aircraft activity, can they be sited?

Dr. Donald Deever of Searchlight warned of just this problem in his 43-page public comment submitted to the BLM in June. He wrote: “As further proof of the devastating frequencies emitted by industrial wind turbines, something that isn’t common knowledge is that in the early years of the first term of President Obama, a feasibility study was commissioned to look into the possibility of transforming the Nevada Testing Site into the world’s largest photovoltaic solar energy plant. Unfortunately, the proposed project was diverted by Senator Harry Reid, who replaced the idea of solar panels with industrial wind turbines. Although Congress approved the project, it was immediately shut down when government engineers and researchers at Area 51 let the President and Pentagon know that the frequencies emitted by industrial wind turbines would completely interfere with America’s advanced stealth technology tests. If the frequencies of industrial wind turbines could overwhelm the circuitry of our country’s most modern stealth circuitry, one can only imagine how much damage it can do to the even more delicate biological systems of all migrating birds, whom scientists now know rely on magnetic fields to accomplish their annual migrations.”

Such limitations on the siting of wind farms near air traffic corridors might have an impact on the implementation of Question 6, should voters approve the proposition again in two years. In November, 59 percent of the Nevada voters approved a change in the state law that currently requires 25 percent of the state’s electric power to come from renewable generation sources such as wind and solar by 2025. Question 6 upped the ratio to 50 percent by 2030, no matter the cost and practicality or whether carbon emissions are actually reduced.

It should be noted that Question 6 passed in only three counties — Clark, Washoe and Mineral. It failed in every other county by wide margins.

Wind and solar eyesores gobble huge tracts of land and the most likely candidates for such projects are generally cheap federal public land, primarily found in rural counties.

Only 22 percent of voters in Lincoln County approved of Question 6, only 26 percent in Eureka, 29 percent in White Pine and Esmeralda and 32 percent in Elko, for example.

Clark County, the site of the rejected Crescent Peak Wind Project, saw 64 percent voter approval.

It will be hard to generate 50 percent of the state’s electricity with solar power, since the sun shines only half the day.

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.

 

Migrants make outrageous demands

Now that’s brazen.

According to the San Diego newspaper, some of those Central Americans stuck in Tijuana while trying to get into the U.S. marched to the U.S. Consulate there Tuesday and demanded that asylum processing be speeded up or that the U.S. pay them $50,000 each to go home. If it is dangerous for them to return to their home countries, how much more dangerous would it be if they returned with what would be fortune there?

One letter delivered to the consulate said, “It may seem like a lot of money to you. But it is a small sum compared to everything the United States has stolen from Honduras.”

This seems an odd thing to say since Trump is threatening to cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if they don’t stop the caravans. Honduras got $181 million in U.S. aid in 2017. Guatemala got $127 million. El Salvador got $118 million.

One letter to the consulate said the caravans consist of “families, women and children, the majority of which are young men who are fleeing from poverty, insecurity and political repression under the dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez,” and demanded the U.S. remove the Honduran president. We believe that would be called a coup.

That’s a lot of demands from people who want to enter the U.S.

Migrants march on U.S. consulate in Tiajuana Tuesday. (San Diego Union-Tribune pix)

Election analysis goes astray

Yes, the election was all about the unions turning out for Democrats in Clark County en masse. Yes, Trump overshadowed all the statewide Nevada races.

But can you believe the last graphs of the front page story in the morning paper?:

But many agree that to compete with Democrats, Republicans need to do better at being more positive and inclusive, with tighter focuses on more traditional fiscal conservative issues like job creation and wage growth as opposed to social issues.

That kind of messaging became the hallmark of outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval’s eight years in office, and Sandoval’s popularity with both parties remains high as he prepares to hand the office off to Sisolak.

(Republican political consultant Greg) Ferraro said Sandoval’s style should be emulated by Republicans if they want to match his political triumphs.

Sandoval was popular with both parties? The “Republican” governor who pushed through in 2015 the biggest tax hike in history, a tax hike that included a commerce tax, which had been rejected by 79 percent of voters just months earlier? We’re not sure how popular he was with his own party, much less Democrats.

Emulate Sandoval, who did not endorse his own party’s candidate for governor, probably because he had advocated repealing the commerce tax? Sandoval who was AWOL at most Republican functions?

Who are the many who agree? What social issues? The Republicans in the statewide races were almost exclusively about job creation and wage growth through fewer regulations and lower taxes.

Bottom line: It was all about the liberal union turnout in the urban areas. Republicans may have talked about avoiding Californication, but it is too late. It is here and now.

(Footnote: Recently the morning paper posted a breaking news story online on a Friday afternoon but did not get around to printing it until Monday. The story mentioned above appeared in print on the front page, but searches online turned up nothing. Right hand, meet the left hand. It showed up online just before 10 a.m.)

The late posted online version adds an additional paragraph:

“I think Republicans would be wise to look at the success of the Sandoval brand going forward, which was a message of inclusion, either bipartisan or nonpartisan or both, and practical not political,” Ferraro said. “One that appeals to Nevadans in a message of Nevada first.”

What the hell does that mean?

Editorial: Supreme Court should limit civil asset forfeitures 

The U.S. Supreme Court finally has taken up a case that could result in the reining in of the larcenous practice by local and federal law enforcement agencies of seizing private property to pad their budgets.

This past week the court heard arguments in the case of Timbs v. Indiana. Tyson Timbs was caught in a police sting selling heroin, and during one of his transactions he was driving a $42,000 Land Rover, which the police seized.

Timbs’ attorney argued the seizure of the expensive vehicle was a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines and punishment. 

The Indiana Supreme Court held that the excessive-fines clause doesn’t apply to states, according to a Wall Street Journal account, which is dubious since the 14th Amendment declared, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States …” which are spelled out in the Bill of Rights. 

The attorney for Indiana also argued that the seizure was an “in rem” asset forfeiture, meaning the property was guilty of a crime and therefore its value was not subject to the proportionality of any fine.

This caused Justice Stephen Breyer to speculate, “So what is to happen

if a state needing revenue says anyone who speeds has to forfeit the Bugatti, Mercedes, or a special Ferrari or even jalopy? (Laughter.)” — even if the speed limit were exceeded by only five miles an hour.

The state attorney’s quick reply was, “Yes, it’s forfeitable.”

Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to concede that there is difference between a fine and the seizing of guilty property, saying, “And I certainly understand the argument that the disproportion and excessiveness arguments would be quite different with respect to forfeiting the instrumentalities of the crime.  I mean, an argument could be made, well, that’s always proportionate since it’s the way the crime is accomplished.”

But Timbs’ attorney argued the seizure still constitutes a fine.

Yes, it is a distinction without any practicable difference. The person is still deprived of valuable property, which arguably is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

This case is not academic for Nevada. There have been a number of asset forfeitures that appeared to exceed the excessive-fine clause prohibition. Over a two-year period Humboldt County deputies alone seized $180,000 in cash from motorists, though some were never convicted of a crime.

Police in Elko County confiscated $167,000 in cash from a man driving a motor home after a drug dog “alerted,” though no drugs were found and no charges were ever filed.

Let’s pray the U.S. Supreme Court sees fit to require law enforcement to abide by the Bill of Rights from now on.

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.

Tyson Timbs (AP pix via WSJ)

Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching some of you may still be confounded by the question of just what to give that Nevada friend or family member. May we be so bold as to suggest a gift that endures — books about Nevada or by Nevadans. The choices are as varied as Nevada’s people and its landscapes. 

These can be found in your local bookstore and online from several book retailers in hardback, paperback and electronic versions.

A book that will open the reader to the wonders of Nevada and the Southwest is Deborah Wall’s expanded 2nd edition of “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Just in time for holiday giving, Range magazine has published another of its gorgeous coffee table books — “The Magnificent American West,” which features colorful, award-winning photographs along with the wit and witticisms of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.

At rangemagazine.com one can also find several other books about Nevada and the Western lifestyle, including collections of cowboy poetry and art such as “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West,” which include poems by Nevadan Waddie Mitchell.

Of course, no Nevadan’s library is complete without a copy of Twain’s “Roughing It,” which recounts his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel. 

To learn more about the truth-stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain,” which relates how Sam Clemens really came by his nom de plume.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

In a similar vein comes Robert Laxalt’s “Sweet Promised Land,” which reflects on Nevada’s formative years and his father’s visit to his native Basque homeland. 

 Sally Denton’s “Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” recounts the engineering feat that produced the landscape altering Hoover Dam.

The newest addition to the list of books by Nevadans, if not necessarily about Nevada, is so new it will not be available in print until March, but one may order it now and put a printout of the book cover under the tree. Longtime Nevada writer, editor, investigative journalist, essayist and shirt-tail historian A.D. Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era called, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” It looks at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist Vin Suprynowicz also has added fiction to his list of books. The latest is a science fiction, libertarian-leaning tale called “The Miskatonic Manuscript,” a follow-up to his “The Testament of James.” His non-fiction collections of essays include “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Ballad of Carl Drega.”

For a look at how Nevada corporations edged out the mob to take over the gaming racket, there is longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “Sharks in the Desert.” One might also peruse his books about gambling execs Steve Wynn and Bob Stupak and mob attorney-turned Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

We also recommend Colorado-based writer David Philipps attempt to answer the question about what to do about the West’s burgeoning wild horse population in his book “Wild Horse Country.” The book sweeps across a span of time and landscape as vast as the range of the wild horse, delving into views and suggestions from horse-huggers and horse-disparagers alike, turning more than a few colorful similes and metaphors along the journey.

To span the human history of Nevada, there is prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher’s retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.

May your friends and family appreciate you and your gifts.

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.

Up in the White House … Tariff Man!

 

Tariff Man!

Faster than a speeding tweet! More powerful than steamrolling economy! Able to leap to illogical conclusions!


Would someone please whisper into Trump’s ear that fact that tariffs amount to a tax on what Americans pay for everything, whether imported or not.

Put a tariff on steel and the cost autos built in the U.S. increase. Got it?

Put a tariff on stuff coming from China and they counter with a tax on soybeans, which are left to rot in silos.

Ludwig von Mises:

It is important to realize that what those benefited by these measures (tariffs) consider an advantage for themselves lasts only for a limited time. In the long run the privilege accorded to a definite class of producers loses its power to create specific gains. The privileged branch attracts newcomers, and their competition tends to eliminate the specific gains derived from the privilege. Thus the eagerness of the law’s pet children to acquire privileges is insatiable. They continue to ask for new privileges because the old ones lose their power.

Ramirez cartoon