Newspaper Column: Prevailing wage law change will cost taxpayers

A fool and his money are soon parted.

In Nevada those fools are the taxpayers who keep electing Democrat majorities to send to Carson City to pick their pockets.

Assembly Bill 154, sponsored by a raft of Democrats, would roll back the minor headway made just two years ago to cut the cost of public works. It would raise the cost of construction of university and public school buildings by reimposing the so-called prevailing wage on more projects.

Prevailing wage laws require that workers on public construction jobs to be paid no less than the “prevailing” wage in the area where the work is being done. The wage rate is set by the state Labor Commissioner based on a survey of contractors. The survey is so time consuming that in reality only union shops bother to comply, meaning the prevailing wage is the highest union wage.

AB154 would require that contractors doing any university or public school work exceeding $100,000 pay prevailing wage, down from the current $250,00. It also requires the full prevailing wage instead of the current 90 percent.

Las Vegas Democratic Assemblyman Chris Brooks, chief sponsor of the bill, testified before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee recently and actually claimed the bill would save money.

“Research shows that prevailing wage laws lead to more workforce training, a more educated and experienced workforce, safer construction and government savings because workers depend less on social programs,” Brooks said. “Prevailing wage laws are better for the economy because they support the middle-class incomes that boost consumer spending. Eliminating the prevailing wage does not save money and can actually cost more money.”

Warren Hardy of the Associated Builders and Contractors contested this allegation of savings by pointing out that a contract for construction of a middle school in Clark County received a low bid of $2.7 million during a brief period a couple of years ago when the prevailing wage was dropped for schools, but when the prevailing wage was reinstated the low bid jumped to $3.6 million.

In 2000, A.D. Hopkins wrote a series of articles for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, outlining the profligacy of the prevailing wage law. One article stated: “Nevada’s prevailing wage law costs taxpayers about $2.3 million extra on every new public high school being built in Clark County, according to a database analysis by the Review-Journal.”

In 2012, Geoffrey Lawrence penned a column for the Nevada Policy Research Institute website on Nevada’s expensive prevailing wage law. He noted how a plumber in Mesquite might expect to be paid less than $20 an hour for most jobs, but, if it is a public works project by a state or local government entity, that same plumber would be paid, by law, more than $70 an hour.

Lawrence’s piece pointed out that an NPRI analysis estimated that prevailing wage requirements cost Nevada taxpayers nearly $1 billion extra over 2009 and 2010. The state’s biennial general fund budget is less than $7 billion. “That’s why prevailing wage reform needs to be at the top of the agenda for the Nevada Legislature in 2013,” Lawrence wrote.

NPRI in its “Solutions 2015” handbook estimated the law required the state, cities, counties, school districts and other government entities to pay 45 percent higher wages than necessary — a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion a year.

For a little historical perspective, the prevailing wage law is a vestige of the Jim Crow era and is modeled on the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 that was expressly intended to keep cheaper Southern black laborers from getting jobs on public works projects.

The discriminatory nature of prevailing wages persists to this day.

Hardy of the Associated Builders and Contractors said during testimony on the bill that his organization does not have a problem with federal prevailing wage law but does object to the way the wage is calculated in Nevada, which results in unions setting the prevailing wage.

“The overwhelming majority of small businesses, the overwhelming majority of minority-owned businesses, the overwhelming majority of women-owned businesses are non-union,” Hardy said. “These folks are not union contractors. So what you’re saying is, we need to build laws, which is what the prevailing law does in this state quite frankly, to incent the hiring of union contractors. That disenfranchises small businesses, women- and minority-owned businesses because they are overwhelmingly nonunion contractors.”

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.

Turning Nevada into a ‘sanctuary state’ could have severe consequences

ICE agents at work in Las Vegas. (R-J pix)

ICE agents at work in Las Vegas. (R-J pix)

Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it — good and hard.

Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela of Las Vegas, along with a number of fellow Democrats, has introduced a bill that would turn Nevada into a “sanctuary state” by forbidding law enforcement cooperating with federal immigration authorities in identifying persons who are in this country illegally.

Senate Bill 223 states:

No state or local law enforcement agency, school police unit or campus police department shall:
(a) Use money, facilities, property, equipment or personnel of the agency, unit or department to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest a person for the purposes of immigration enforcement, including, without limitation:
(1) Inquiring into or collecting information about the immigration status of a person.
(2) Detaining a person on the basis of a hold request, except where there is an independent finding of probable cause.
(3) Responding to a notification request or transfer request.
(4) Providing or responding to a request for nonpublic personal information about a person, including, without limitation, information about the person’s home address, work address or date of release from custody.
(5) Making an arrest on the basis of a civil immigration warrant, except where there is an independent finding of probable cause.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Under a program called 287(g) local cooperating police departments, which includes Clark County, that take a suspected illegal immigrant into custody notify U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents and they have 48 hours to pick up that person.

According to an account in the Las Vegas newspaper, in the past that rarely happened, but in recent weeks ICE officers are at the jail almost every day, apparently stepping up enforcement of immigration laws under the Trump administration.

Under SB223 this would come to a screeching halt.

But Tump has threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities. He signed an executive order directing government officials to identify federal money that can be withheld to punish “sanctuary cities.”

So what could this mean for the “sanctuary state” of Nevada?

The state’s total budget for the past two years was $26 billion. Fully $9 billion of that came from federal funds, according to the state budget.

Passing SB223 could have serious consequences to the taxpayers of Nevada, but that has never stopped the self-righteous Democrats, has it?

 

Bill would add public libraries to gun-free zones

Lawmakers in Carson City continue to exhibit rabid hoplophobia.

A bill has been introduced to further extend gun-free zones to public libraries and their parking lots. Senate Bill 115, introduced by state Sen. Mo Denis, would add public libraries to the current law, which prohibits guns and other weapons in the buildings and parking lots of universities, public and private schools and childcare facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a hearing scheduled on the bill for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Nevada Firearms Coalition is urging people to contact the committee members to oppose the bill and register their opposition at a legislative web page.

Now, we have no problem with the owners of land and buildings demanding that visitors come unarmed and the state is surely the owner or custodian of universities and public schools, but why should the state dictate to private schools and private childcare facilities? But most of all, why make it a crime to have a gun in your car in the parking lot?

In fact, in 2015 session Assemblyman John Hambrick introduced a bill that would have allowed guns in occupied or locked vehicles at the aforementioned locales. A hearing on the bill was packed with proponents and opponents.

Its digest stated:

Existing law generally makes it a gross misdemeanor to carry or possess certain weapons while on the property of the Nevada System of Higher Education, a private or public school or a child care facility, or while in a vehicle of a private or public school or a child care facility except in certain circumstances. (NRS 202.265) This bill adds an exception so that a person is not prohibited from possessing such weapons on the property of the Nevada System of Higher Education, a private or public school or a child care facility if the weapon remains out of public view and if the weapon is: (1) inside a motor vehicle that is occupied or, if the motor vehicle is unoccupied, the motor vehicle is locked; or (2) stored in a locked container that is affixed securely to the motor vehicle. 

Seems like a common sense approach, but it never got out of committee.

Having a gun in the parking lot is not as good as having one on your person if the need arises, but tell that to the vice principal of the Pearl, Miss., school who had to run a quarter mile to car to retrieve a gun to stop a shooter.

Vin Suprynowicz recounted in a newspaper column in 2012:

Law-abiding Americans with guns have an impressive record of cutting short the mayhem of would-be mass killers. In a shooting in Pearl, Miss., in October 1997, young Luke Woodham had slit his mother’s throat before carrying a .30-30 deer rifle to school.

Woodham fatally shot two students as Vice Principal Joel Myrick, responding quickly to the sound of shots, dashed to his truck — parked more than a quarter-mile away as required by the ‘gun-free school zone’ law — to recover and load his own Colt .45. He then raced back, captured and disarmed Woodham, holding a gun to his head for more than four minutes while waiting for police to arrive. This almost certainly saved lives, as Woodham had declared his intent to also shoot up another nearby school.

Pearl, Miss., school shooter.

Pearl, Miss., school shooter.

 

Newspaper account is what it is, no mater how it is labeled

rj-analysis

You can take the columnist label off of the writer but you can’t take the columnist proclivities out of her.

One person’s “analysis” is another’s “opinion.”

Providing context in “objective” reporting is hardly distinguishable from “spin.”

I predicted when Debra Saunders joined the Las Vegas newspaper as its White House correspondent after three decades as an editorialist and columnist — having recently departed, willingly or unwillingly, from the San Francisco Chronicle as its putative token conservative columnist — that it would be fun to watch how the designation as a “cub reporter,” as she called it, would jibe with her engrained columnist instincts.

On the front page of today’s newspaper, under Saunders’ byline and an “analysis” tag, is a piece speculating on just how political tonight’s Oscar awards television show will be.

The print headline — “Dear winners: Thank your agent but skip the sermon” — suggests that at least some copyeditor thought the piece was more an editorial advocacy than a thoughtful cogitation on the potential political pandering in acceptance speeches.

The online headline is a bit more ambiguous: “Oscars prediction: Litany of anti-Trump lectures will rule the night,” but there is no “analysis” label extant, though the content is the same.

The same piece also appears today at Townhall.com under the heading of “columnists” with a headline: “Oscar Rants.”

It also is posted on Creators Syndicate website under the same headline.

It also appears at The American Spectator website under the headline: “More of the same coming up?

Whatever it is, its got traction.

Saunders uses the piece to retrace some of the Oscar show’s history of political posturing, beginning with Marlon Brando sending an American Indian to accept his best actor statuette and rant about the treatment of native Americans in the flix.

“When George W. Bush was president, the occasional Oscar recipient railed against the war in Iraq. When Barack Obama assumed office, U.S. troops still served in Iraq, but the anti-war chants met a mute button,” Saunders observes, which certainly does amount to objective observation of the events.

But when she quotes Meryl Streep’s earlier lament at another Hollywood navel-gazing event in which she said those in the room “belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now,” Saunders’ rejoinder is tinged with opinion and dripping with sarcasm: “I can only say that, if having extravagant award ceremonies, staff to shield you from an adoring public and all the other perks of celebrity signify being ‘vilified,’ bring it on.”

While Donald Trump slams journalists and journalists slam him for slamming them and journalist slam actors and actresses for slamming Trump, you can slap any label you want on it, but it is still up to the reader to bring a heaping helping of skepticism and sound judgment to the table when poring over the morning paper and the derivatives and duplicates out on the Web.

Pay no attention to those niggling labels. Read on, dear reader, and enjoy the sarcasm wherever you can find it.

Debra Saunders (San Francisco Chronicle pix)

Debra Saunders (San Francisco Chronicle pix)

 

Newspaper column: Proposed environmental bills would kill jobs

Workers frack a well in North Dakota. (Reuters photo via R-J)

Workers frack a well in North Dakota. (Reuters photo via R-J)

With delusions of saving the planet from catastrophic warming, a Las Vegas assemblyman is offering up a futile gesture in the form of a bill to ban fracking in Nevada.

According to media accounts Democratic Assemblyman Justin Watkins has stated fracking causes earthquakes, contaminates water, pollutes the air and basically creates an eyesore.

His Assembly Bill 159 would amend state law by adding: “A person shall not engage in hydraulic fracturing in this State. As used in this section, ‘hydraulic fracturing’ means the process of pumping fluid into or under the surface of the ground to create fractures in the rock to facilitate the production or recovery of oil or gas.”

First, any earthquakes associated with fracking were not caused by fracking but by pumping fracking waste into injection wells, because the environmentalists object to leaving what is mostly water and sand on the surface.

As for contaminating groundwater even Obama’s EPA had to stretch beyond credulity to conclude there is a “chance” of pollution. In its report on the topic the EPA scientists said fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances,” but “the scientific evidence is insufficient to support estimates of the frequency of contamination.” They said the instances of contamination were small in comparison to the vast number of fracked wells across the nation. Almost nonexistent is more accurate.

Oil and natural gas wells, with or without fracking, produce oil and gas, the burning of which releases some carbon. We grant that, but fracking has actually cut the nation’s carbon output since natural gas burns cleaner than coal when used in power generation.

As for being an eyesore, modern fracking and drilling techniques eliminate the need to drill hundreds of wells in close proximity to hit small pockets of oil, such as can be seen in Bakersfield, Calif. Instead these pockets are tapped by drilling one well and then drilling out horizontally.

It would appear Watkins is under the misconception that fracking is some sort of recent untested endeavor.

The first fracking patent was issued in 1866. It used nitroglycerin explosions to fracture formations. The first commercial application of hydraulic fracking took place in 1949. In many oil and gas fields a vast majority of wells are fracked at one time or another, either initially or later to prolong the productive life of the well.

In the 1980s Texas oilman George Mitchell combined the techniques of fracking and horizontal drilling to develop the Barnett Shale formation in North Texas. This has resulted in a boom in natural gas production and a decline in oil prices, creating countless jobs and growing the economy.

In 2014 the Nevada Division of Minerals Administrator Rich Perry released Nevada’s 20-page revised rules on fracking that require groundwater testing before and after drilling, pressure testing of equipment, notifications to landowners before fracking begins and abiding by strict engineering standards. More than adequate precautions.

Though there have been a few fracked wells in the Elko vicinity in recent years, there reportedly are none ongoing at this time in Nevada.

But there is potential with the Chainman Shale formation, which lies largely in an 80- to 100-mile-plus radius around Duckwater — including almost all of White Pine County, major portions of Nye, Lincoln, Elko, Eureka and Lander counties, as well as parts of a couple of counties in Utah.

The formation is believed to be rich in oil, though most lies 2 to 5 miles underground, making drilling expensive when oil prices are fairly low — largely due to ample supplies created by fracking.

A fracking ban just might kill a number of potential jobs in Nevada and deprive the state economy and the state tax coffers of revenue. All for no discernible reason.

As if the fracking ban were not enough, another Las Vegas Assemblyman — Chris Brooks, who has worked in the solar panel installation business for years — has introduced legislation that would greatly increase the percentage of electric power sold in the state that must be generated by renewable energy sources — known as the renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

Current law requires 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, but Assembly Bill 206 would increase this to 50 percent by 2030 and fully 80 percent by 2040.

Such a standard would drive up power costs, kill jobs and increase the risk of brownouts and blackouts resulting from intermittent generation when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow — all for the sake of some nebulous superstition that reducing carbon output will save the planet from catastrophic warming.

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.

Minimum wage: The 3 percent solution?

There for a while I felt like Jeremiah crying in the wilderness in pointing out that the state Legislature could not raise the minimum wage in Nevada, because the voters in 2006 set the minimum wage and determined how it would be raised by voting for a constitutional amendment. It would take another constitutional amendment to change that, not a mere change in law.

Senate Bill 106 and Assembly Bill 175 propose to raise the minimum by different amounts.

But this week a writer at The Nevada Independent weighed in with a piece asking: “Can the Nevada Legislature raise the minimum wage?”

The writer concluded that at the Legislative Counsel Bureau opinion that lawmakers can do it is not binding law and if it passes someone is likely to file suit.

Today a Las Vegas newspaper columnist also broached the question of whether the Constitution bars lawmakers from raising the minimum wage.

He too concluded that, if either bill passes and the governor for some reason signs it, the issue will land in the courts.

In 2006 the constitutional amendment established the minimum wage would be $5.15 an hour if an employer provided health insurance and $6.15 if not. It provided for raising that minimum wage to match any increase in the federal minimum or raise it to account for an increase in the cost of living, whichever is greater. Today the minimums stand at $7.25 and $8.25.

The voters established both the minimum wage and the method for increasing it. How can lawmakers simply say that is merely the minimum minimum and they can increase it to whatever level they wish?

The Senate bill would raise the minimum wage 75 cents a year until it reaches $11 or $12, depending on health insurance, while the Assembly version would raise it $1.25 a year until it hits $14 or $15.

An Assembly committee was told by its LCB lawyer last week: “I spoke with the Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes. She told me that our office thoroughly researched this during the 2015 legislative session and then updated and confirmed that research during the drafting of AB175 this session. She said that as result of their research it is the opinion of LCB legal, based on the rules of statutory and constitutional construction, that the provisions of the minimum wage amendment to the Nevada Constitution do not limit the inherent power of the Legislature to establish by statute a new minimum wage that is higher than the minimum wage that is currently required by law.”

A Senate LCB lawyer told a committee hearing its bill this week: “In this case with this bill the constitutional amendment clearly states the employers must pay a wage of quote ‘at least’ the amounts set forth in the language of the constitutional amendment. Thus increasing the minimum wage by legislation would not conflict with the constitutional amendment and because there is no conflict with the constitutional amendment the Legislature has the power to enact legislation to increase the minimum wage. And that has been the opinion of the Legislative Counsel.”

But a previous fact sheet posted by LCB in 2015 stated: “Because provisions governing the minimum wage rate are included in the Constitution, any changes to the minimum wage provisions require a constitutional amendment.”

The Las Vegas columnist was told that was an error. The fact sheet has since been altered to delete that section.

But as the Nevada Supreme Court has stated: The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.

The constitutional amendment states how the minimum wage is to be raised and that does not include permission for the lawmakers raise it by some other means.

In fact, in the portion of the amendment that states how minimum wages may be raised to account for increases in the Consumer Price Index it clearly states: “No CPI adjustment for any one-year period may be greater than 3%.”

That indicates the voters intended to prevent rapid increases in the minimum wage even if the CPI were to jump, say 10 percent in one year.

The proffered $1.25 and 75 cents a year both exceed that 3 percent cap established by the voters. One more argument for the courts to contemplate should either bill become law.

 

 

How not to pick and choose who to erase from history

If you thought Nevada lawmakers meeting now in Carson City were engaging in petty political correctness by seeking to change the purely ceremonial and entirely vacuous non-holiday of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, wait till you read what pompous administrators at Yale University are doing.

Roger Kimball, in a brilliantly executed op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, takes apart the decision at Yale to rename one of its 12 residential colleges to remove the name of 19th century politician, orator, senator, secretary of war, vice president and slave owner John C. Calhoun.

Stained-glass image of John C. Calhoun at Yale

Stained-glass image of John C. Calhoun at Yale

As Kimball points out, once you start down this path of erasing people from history for the crime of doing what was completely normal at their time in history, where do you stop? After all, five other colleges at Yale are named for slave owners. Calhoun’s name is simply the most prominent. He graduated as valedictorian from Yale College in 1804.

Among the criteria for renaming something at Yale is: Does the person’s legacy conflict with the university’s mission and did the person pay a substantial role at Yale?

Kimball then introduces us to the foibles of the university’s namesake: Elihu Yale.

Mr. Yale helped found Yale College with a gift of £800 in books and other goods.

While Calhoun was said to have been kind to his slaves, according to Kimball, Yale was an active slave trader and administrator in India, who flogged his slaves, had a stable boy hanged for horse theft, was removed from his post in India for corruption and never set foot in New Haven.

There are a lot names on a lot of things. Indian fighters Kit Carson and John C. Fremont come quickly to mind.

And don’t let them tell you Carson City is really named after the Carson River, which was named by Fremont for his scout Carson.

Kit Carson with John C. Fremont (Library of Congress)

Kit Carson with John C. Fremont (Library of Congress)