Newspaper column: Tax reform bill divides Nevada delegation along party lines

Like everything else to come out of Washington, the House tax reform bill introduced this past week has turned into a partisan hissing match in a fact-free zone.

Republicans hail it as an economy stimulating second coming, while Democrats decry it as a sop to the wealthy and a death knell for the middle class.

The bill lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, doubles the standard deduction, lowers the individual tax rates for all but millionaires, allows 100 percent expensing of business costs instead of the current 50 percent, eliminates deductions for state and local taxes, except for property taxes, and allows mortgage interest deduction.

Republican Dean Heller said the bill will provide tax relief for middle class families, while Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto said the bill rewards corporations and the rich at the expense of working families, seniors and the poor.

“As a member of the U.S. Senate’s tax-writing committee, I’m waking up each and every day with the sole focus of ensuring that Nevada’s hardworking families and small business owners come out ahead when the Senate passes its final product,” Heller said in a statement, adding, “I’m going to continue fighting for a major tax overhaul that will help my state and push for policies that will create jobs, boost growth, and make it easier for Nevadans to provide a better life for their kids.”

A Cortez Masto press release fulminated, “Republicans in Congress have one priority: ripping off America’s middle class and working families. Rather than transparently writing a bill that puts economic growth and American’s financial security first, the current Republican tax proposal targets Nevada families. The latest Republican proposals would put our country even further in debt, take money out of working families pocketbooks …”

Cortez Masto also claimed, “The average tax increase on families nationwide earning up to $86,100 would be $794.”

But the Washington Post fact checked that claim and found it was based on a report by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee who actually said, “If enacted, the Republican tax reform proposal would saddle 8 million households that earn up to $86,100 with an average tax increase of $794 …”

But you see, there are 122 million households making less than $86,100. Thus only 6.5 percent of those households would see a tax hike of that amount. The Post reported that more than 97 million, or 80 percent, of that group would get a tax cut averaging about $450.

Republicans say the bill would result in a tax savings of $1,182 for a typical household of four with gross income of $59,000, resulting in their tax bill being only $400.

Las Vegas Democratic Rep. Dina Titus joined the partisan fray by calling the bill “a red herring tax plan that relies on the myth of trickle-down economics in order to give the nation’s top earners a handout.”

Titus said she could not see how working families could save money if the bill removes certain deductions, including the one for state and local sales taxes — ignoring the fact 70 percent of Americans take the standard deduction and do not itemize, nor the fact Nevadans who do itemize can deduct only about 10 percent as much as taxpayers in high-tax states such as California and New York and thus are subsidizing those states.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who represents southern rural Nevada and northern Clark County, used the occasion to solicit contributions while slamming the bill by saying, “We expected Paul Ryan and the Republicans would bend over backwards to make big corporations and the super rich the winners in this plan, and that’s exactly what they did. Meanwhile, it’s all at your expense.”

Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, took a more nuanced approach, promising in an email to constituents to thoroughly research the 429-page bill, while also saying, “I think we can all agree the American taxpayer would be better off if Congress were to reform our current tax code in favor of a system that is simpler, fairer, and has lower tax rates.”

The bill also eliminates the $7,500 tax credit for purchasing electric cars, such as Teslas, whose batteries are built in Sparks, and drops the tax exemption for municipal bonds to finance sports stadiums, such as the one planned for Las Vegas for the Raiders.

Next, Congress needs to address the runaway federal spending.

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.

(AP pix)

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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.

Newspaper column: DACA rhetoric just muddies the waters

Pro-DACA gathering in Las Vegas earlier this month. (R-J pix)

The vitriol being spewed over President Trump’s suspension of Obama’s executive fiat to defer deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children is nothing more than pretentious and pointless political patronizing.

Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Washington was unmatched in its heated hyperbole.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto called Trump a racist and a xenophobe, firing off a missive declaring the “decision to end DACA protections for DREAMers is not guided by sound policy, but by xenophobia and myths. DREAMers who benefit from DACA know no other country other than the U.S. Denying them DACA protection unjustly rips away their future, exposes them to job loss, and threatens them with deportation from the only country they have ever known.”

For the acronym deprived, DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the name given by Obama to an executive order to defer deportations of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. DREAMers is a derivation of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has been pending in various forms in Congress since August of 2001 without passage.

When Congress failed to act, Obama took it on his own in June 2012 to do what Congress had not.

Even though Trump gave Congress six months to remedy his rescinding of DACA and pass the DREAM Act, Rep. Jacky Rosen declared it was wrong to invite “these young people to come out of the shadows, raise their hands, and make themselves known, the United States made a promise to those who came here as children. President Trump is now reneging on that promise …”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, making the obligatory observation that he was once an undocumented immigrant brought here by his parents, said in an email that the decision tramples this country’s values and shatters the hopes and dreams of the 800,000 who have signed up for DACA. He called the decision “heartless and cruel.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Ending DACA appeals to xenophobic beliefs and goes against the founding principles of our nation” — ignoring the fact it was Obama who made a promise he had no power to make.

In a statement announcing the DACA decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.

“In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

In contrast to Nevada’s Democratic delegates, its Republicans reacted by saying it is now time for Congress to do its job.

Sen. Dean Heller issued a statement to the Reno newspaper saying, “While I remain concerned about the way in which DACA came to life, I’ve made clear that I support the program because hard working individuals who came to this country through no fault of their own as children should not be immediately shown the door.”

Heller noted that he is a cosponsor of the Bridge Act, which provides legal status for so-called DREAMers while Congress works toward a permanent solution to immigration problems.

“Just as I have in the past, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to reform our broken immigration system and that must start with securing our borders …” Heller’s statement continued.

Rep. Mark Amodei put out a statement noting that he is a sponsor of a bill called Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would provide a way for childhood immigrants to earn legal residency.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve called on congressional leadership to act on immigration reform. I would always rather be criticized for attempting to move this issue toward a solution, than criticized for repeated inaction,” Amodei said in a statement. “Now, Congress has six months to do the job it’s supposed to do according to the Constitution. If we’re unable to do that job, then 800,000 immigrants will be affected.”

Amodei further noted that Congress has not passed any substantive immigration reform since Ronald Reagan was president, three decades ago, adding that if any blame is to be attached to this it is rightfully Congress’.

The Democrats’ rancorous rhetoric does nothing to move toward a compromise and might well jeopardize that goal, especially if they categorically reject border security as a part of the package.

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.

ObamaCare: How can states ‘lose’ what they never had?

So, your boss promises to give you a raise next year, prompting you to make plans for how to spend that windfall. In the meantime, that boss is fired and replaced with a new boss, who nixes the raise. That means you “lost” money, right?

That’s how it works in Washington-speak.

According to Modern Healthcare, “Two nonpartisan analyses of the Graham-Cassidy bill show that many states represented by Republican senators would lose billions of dollars in federal healthcare funding through 2026 and far larger amounts after that.”

The morning paper says Nevada would lose $2 billion from 2020 to 2026.

Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval was one of 10 governors signing a letter opposing Graham-Cassidy, while Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller is a sponsor of the bill.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Graham-Cassidy would address the huge inequities in ObamaCare Medicaid funding between the states.

“According to the proposal’s authors, Washington in 2016 sent states anywhere from about $400 (Mississippi) to over $10,000 (Massachusetts) per beneficiary whose annual income was between 50% and 138% of the federal poverty level,” the paper reports. “In contrast, the size of the Graham-Cassidy block grant would not depend on whether a state chose to expand its Medicaid program. Thus, it would equalize the base per-person amount the federal government gives states. In 2026 it would be about $4,400 for each qualified beneficiary. The bill then adjusts these payments to compensate for factors such as demographic differences and various levels of illness among the states.”

So, some states will lose all ill-gotten windfall from ObamaCare.

Sen. Bill Cassidy at a health-care news conference in Washington earlier this month. (Getty Images via WSJ)

Newspaper column: What a difference a single word makes

Though the Nevada Constitution clearly states that any person serving in one branch of government may not perform “any function” of another branch, the Legislature’s lawyers, the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), in 2002 penned a non-binding opinion that stated a person may serve in the Legislature if they do not exercise “any sovereign functions” in another branch.

The definition of the adjective sovereign is: “possessing supreme or ultimate power,” thus the LCB adulteration of the Constitution emasculates the plain language of the Separation of Powers Clause.

The Nevada Supreme Court will have the opportunity to clear up this matter.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-J pix)

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s (NPRI) legal arm, the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL), this past week filed notice with the state high court that it is appealing the decision of a Carson City judge dismissing its lawsuit against a state senator for violating the Separation of Powers Clause.

“Defying the clear language of the Nevada constitution, Nevada Supreme Court precedent, and a 2004 Attorney General Advisory Opinion by then-attorney-general Governor Brian Sandoval, Judge (James) Russell relied upon a non-binding opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau in his ruling from the bench — but we believe the actual words of the state constitution should matter more,” declared CJCL Director Joseph Becker in an email press release.

In that 2004 opinion, Sandoval noted that in the 1957 Supreme Court case cited by the LCB as the basis for its opinion, the court never got to the point of ruling on the Separation of Powers Clause and dismissed it on other grounds.

CJCL sued state Sen. Heidi Gansert because she also is an employee of the University of Nevada, Reno.

“We believe the plain language of the constitution should take precedent over a non-binding LCB opinion, or the preferences of the ruling class,” commented Becker. “And we look forward to the appeals process finally giving further legal clarity on the issue.”

This fight has been going on for years.

There have been years in which nearly half the lawmakers in Carson City were either government employees or the spouses of government employees. In some years every Senate and Assembly leadership post was held by a public employee.

Currently 10 lawmakers hold down state or local government jobs. As such, despite clear conflicts of interest, the lawmakers can vote themselves raises and hand out largesse to their employers — as Gansert did in this past session by voting for 2 percent raises for state employees and a capital expenditure budget that included more than $40 million for a new engineering building at UNR.

In 2004 then-Secretary of State Dean Heller asked the Supreme Court to remedy this skirting of the Constitution, but the court ruled that the Constitution gives lawmakers the power to determine the qualifications of their members. Thus, the judicial branch telling the legislative branch who its members may be violates the Separation of Powers Clause.

Joseph Becker

But the court did allow that “declaratory relief could be sought by someone with a ‘legally protectible interest,’ such as a person seeking the executive branch position held by the legislator.”

Under that guidance, the CJCL first sued state Sen. Mo Denis on behalf of a person who wanted Denis’ $56,000-a-year job at the Public Utilities Commission. A judge declared the case moot when Denis resigned his PUC job.

NPRI’s lawyers came back with a similar suit against Gansert on behalf of a person who wants her public relations job at UNR — a job that yields $210,000 a year in pay and benefits.

Now that the district court judge has ruled that the Separation of Powers Clause is meaningless, it is back to the Supreme Court.

The court should heed the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in a dissenting opinion from 1926, “The doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The purpose was, not to avoid friction, but, by means of the inevitable friction incident to the distribution of the governmental powers among three departments, to save the people from autocracy.”

Or they could turn to a 1967 Nevada Supreme Court opinion that flatly stated, “The division of powers is probably the most important single principle of government declaring and guaranteeing the liberties of the people.”

The words of the state Constitution should not be made meaningless by adding a word plucked out of thin air.

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.

Separation of Powers Clause interpretation going to state Supreme Court … again

What a difference a single word makes.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s (NPRI) legal arm, the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL), this week filed notice with the Nevada Supreme Court that it is appealing the decision of a Carson City judge dismissing its lawsuit against a state senator for violating the state Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause.

“Defying the clear language of the Nevada constitution, Nevada Supreme Court precedent, and a 2004 Attorney General Advisory Opinion by then-attorney-general Governor Brian Sandoval, Judge (James) Russell relied upon a non-binding opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau in his ruling from the bench — but we believe the actual words of the state constitution should matter more,” declared CJCL Director Joseph Becker in an email press release.

CJCL sued state Sen. Heidi Gansert because she also is an employee of UNR.

The Constitution says any person serving in one branch of government may not perform “any function” of another branch. But the Legislature’s lawyers, the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), back in 2004 penned a non-binding opinion that stated a person my serve in the Legislature if they do not exercise “any sovereign functions” in another branch.

The word sovereign, whatever definition one may ascertain, is nowhere to be found the Separation of Powers Clause.

But apparently the judge accepted the LCB’s rewrite over the original as law.

“We believe the plain language of the constitution should take precedent over a non-binding LCB opinion, or the preferences of the ruling class,” commented Becker. “And we look forward to the appeals process finally giving further legal clarity on the issue.”

This fight has been going on for years.

There have been years in which nearly half the lawmakers in Carson City were either government employees or the spouses of government employees. In some years every Senate and Assembly leadership post was held by a public employee. Currently nearly a dozen lawmakers hold down state or local government jobs.

In 2004 then-Secretary of State Dean Heller asked the Supreme Court to remedy this skirting of the Constitution. Heller asked the court to find that service in the Legislature by unidentified executive branch employees violates the concept of separation of powers and to direct the Legislature to enforce the Separation of Powers Clause.

But the court ruled that doing so would violate — wait for it — the Separation of Powers Clause, because the Constitution also states that the Senate and Assembly are to determine the qualifications of their members, thus the judicial branch telling the legislative branch who its members may be violates the Separation of Powers Clause. Got it?

Never mind that the reason for separation of powers is not to allow each branch to stand totally autonomous and unanswerable to anyone, but to provide checks and balances when one branch runs amok.

But the court did allow that “declaratory relief could be sought by someone with a ‘legally protectible interest,’ such as a person seeking the executive branch position held by the legislator.”

Under that guidance, the CJCL first sued state Sen. Mo Denis on behalf of a person who wanted Denis’ $56,000-a-year job at the Public Utilities Commission. A judge declared the case moot when Denis resigned his PUC job.

NPRI’s lawyers came back with a similar suit against state Gansert on behalf of a person who wants her public relations job at the University of Nevada, Reno — a job that yields $210,000 a year in pay and benefits.

Now that the district court judge has ruled that the Separation of Powers Clause is meaningless, it is back to the Supreme Court.

In a 1967 case, the Nevada Supreme Court flatly stated, “The division of powers is probably the most important single principle of government declaring and guaranteeing the liberties of the people.”

That was 50 years ago.

 

Editorial: Bill continues giving veterans health care choice

Trump signs VA Choice bill. (AP pix)

With a deadline rapidly approaching, two weeks ago President Trump signed a bill sponsored by Nevada Sen. Dean Heller that appropriates $2.1 billion to extend a program that provides veterans with an opportunity to seek health care outside the backlogged, and too often distant, Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Senate Bill 114, VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017, passed both the Senate and the House without a single nay vote.

Trump said at the bill signing ceremony, “This bill will ensure that veterans continue to have the ability to see the doctor of their choice — so important — and don’t have to wait or travel long distances for care. And during the campaign, I kept talking about it. People — these great, incredible veterans — our finest — they’re waiting in line for seven days, nine days, fourteen days, for ailments that could be fixed quickly, and they end up dying of things that could be taken care of very, very routinely.”

The president used the occasion to personally praise Heller, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee for shepherding the bill through a passage.

Trump also noted that the bill authorizes new community-based outpatient clinics and improves the VA’s ability to hire quality employees through improved recruitment and training.

Sen. Heller noted that the funding for the Choice Program will continue to give the 300,000 veterans living in Nevada access to services that the VA cannot provide – such as chemotherapy and certain life-saving surgeries.

“I applaud the president for signing my bill to ensure Nevada’s veterans can continue using the Veterans Choice program,” said Heller. “Nevada’s warriors have fought and served their country selflessly, and they should not be forced to jump through hoops when it comes to accessing the care and benefits they’ve earned.”

He cited as examples a Navy veteran from Lovelock named Wendell, who used the Choice Program to get a neck surgery so that he could still walk and an Air Force pilot from Battle Mountain named John who had cancer removed from his neck.

“The program also allows veterans living in rural areas to receive care near their homes,” Heller said. “Without funding for the program, rural veterans, like those in Ely, Elko, Winnemucca, and Tonopah, would have to drive hundreds of miles to get care. The Choice program allowed an Army veteran from Ely to access mental health services nearby as opposed to traveling over 200 miles to Salt Lake City, Utah, or forgoing the care entirely.”

We applaud this modest step toward privatization of our veterans’ health care.

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.