Motto of the Democratic Party: “Ubi est mea?”

Longtime Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko used to gibe that the real motto of his hometown was: “Ubi est mea?” Translation: “Where’s mine?”

Perhaps, that is now the motto of the Democratic Party and its surrogates marching in the streets, booing at town hall meetings and breaking windows and setting fires and beating college professors.

Thanks to morning newspaper columnist Victor Joecks, we’ve now learned that in her speech to the state Legislature in Carson City nearly a week ago Congresswoman Dina Titus listed violent protest in her litany of reactions to the Trump administration.

Joecks quotes her as saying:

“Here at home we see people coming together in ways that we haven’t witnessed in a long time. There are rallies. There are protests. There are neighborhood events. We’ve had a women’s march, a tax march, there’s a science march.

“We’ve seen coverage of raucous town hall meetings and demonstrations on college campuses that have turned violent.

“It’s because people want to know what is going on. They want to know what’s going to happen to the programs that help those who are the most vulnerable, like Meals on Wheels for seniors.”

After a couple of phone calls the columnist finally managed to get a Titus spokesman to say, “She does not consider violent demonstrations to be equivalent (to the other forms of expression she listed).”

But as the video shows, there are a lot of things she wants to spend our money on.

Bill would repeal ‘Read by 3’ law

A bill wending its way through the Nevada Legislature would undo one of the few educational reforms pressed by Gov. Brian Sandoval that could actually be effective and provide a return on investment.

Assembly Bill 409 — sponsored by the Assembly Education Committee, so no Democrats had to leave fingerprints — proposes to repeal the law that requires third graders who fail to read at grade level be held back and not promoted to fourth grade. The law, which doesn’t take effect until July 2019, met resistance from educrats from the beginning. A former State Board of Education member was quoted as saying another test is “not going to improve reading.”

This was back in 2011 when former Florida Gov. and future presidential candidate Jeb Bush was writing in The Wall Street Journal: “While preparing kids for college and careers starts on the first day of kindergarten, the first good indicator of their chances for success may come in fourth grade. That is when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn.”

Bush explained what Florida did: “Florida ended automatic, ‘social’ promotion for third-grade students who couldn’t read. Again, the opposition to this hard-edged policy was fierce. Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn’t read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.”

Sandoval embraced Bush’s concept and added it to his education reform package of laws.

According to a reporter for The Nevada Independent, Sandoval just might veto AB 409 if it makes it to his desk. She has posted on Twitter what is apparently a statement attributed to the governor: “The Read by Grade 3 initiative placed nearly $30 million directly in classrooms in more than 300 schools across Nevada with a clear line of accountability and singular focus on developmental reading. The Governor will not compromise on the goal of ensuring every student in Nevada is reading at grade level by third grade.”

 

 

 

 

Walters goes in one day from millionaire winner to loser

Billy Walters arrives for court in New York (Bloomberg pix)

His winning streak is over.

As John L. Smith reports in a column for The Nevada Independent, Las Vegas sports bettor and golf course developer Billy Walters, having beaten several investigations and indictments, has been convicted in New York of insider trading.

As Smith relates, “He collected pliable politicians and malleable reporters like posies, and nearly always managed to get the best of it. Even law enforcement, which in the past three decades had suspected him of everything from illegal bookmaking to money laundering, could never seem to bust him out.” Until Friday, when a jury convicted him in an insider trading deal that netted him $43 million.

Smith has been keeping an eye on Walters for years and in 2011 got a chuckle and a newspaper column out of a “60 Minutes” swooning interview with the smooth-talking Kentucky-born gambler and huckster.

Of course, the columnist took the opportunity to tell the story that “60 Minutes”missed:

Walters was a founding member of the infamous and feared “Computer Group,” the breakthrough collective of gamblers, handicappers and investors who processed the day’s sports schedule at such a high level they consistently produced better odds than those on the wall of your local sports book. The Computer Group banked millions, and the bookies took a beating. The Computer Group spawned a generation of imitators, some of whom pounded the sports books to pieces.

But the FBI and Metro were watching, and indictments followed. A trial came later, and Computer Group lawyers mopped the floor with the feds. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office were so embarrassed they put gambling cases on the back burner of their list of prosecutorial priorities.

Walters & Co. seemed to have the opposite effect on Nevada gaming regulation. The sports book industry was so routed it sought protection against Walters from the Gaming Control Board. That led to big rule changes, but Walters managed to adjust.

One of my favorite Walters stories is the time he scored an uncanny, and statistically improbable, winning record at roulette at the Golden Nugget. Casino bosses were sure he had to be cheating. So they had the wheel analyzed by engineers, who found nothing wrong with it. And the legend of Billy Walters grew.

Some of Walters’ biggest scores have come in the chambers of local government. His golf course land proposals at the city and county were tailored like Sinatra’s suits to fit his needs. The fact the public didn’t get the best of it rarely crossed the minds of mesmerized members of the City Council and County Commission.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Daffy souls who hoped to see Walters embarrassed or exposed on television surely were disappointed. They should have known better.

Billy Walters always gets the best of it, and his “60 Minutes” valentine is just another example.

One of those tailored deals was the lease of land from McCarran International Airport for Walters’ Bali Hai Golf Club for 10 years without paying a dime in rent. McCarran was to receive 40 percent of the course’s net profit, but there was no profit because Walters paid his own company a management fee of $6 million.

Walters, 70, now goes from being worth $500 million, the owner of seven homes and a $20 million jet, to facing a cramped jail cell.

Newspaper’s right hand ignores its left hand

After Sunday’s big splash in which the Las Vegas newspaper delved into the “lavish” spending of the city’s tourism agency — an agency the paper’s owner has been battling for years — the paper followed up today with queries to lawmakers in Carson City about that story.

The right hand apparently not did not know what the left hand was doing.

The front page story — over the headline “GOP legislators remain silent on LVCVA spending” — quoted one Republican lawmaker as saying of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s spending:  “this is not in our wheelhouse. We have no authority over this, and it’s not part of our caucus priorities.”

That story quoted another lawmaker as saying the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to oversee the agency.

It also quoted Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who washed his hands of it, “All LVCVA governance and budgetary issues are exclusively within the jurisdiction and control of the Board and are subject to Board review, decision and comment.”

All without bothering to mention or refer to another story in the same paper a couple pages inside.

That story is about a bill that would create an inspector general’s office to investigate spending by all agencies that spending tax money, such as cities, counties, school district and, just maybe, tourism agencies.

The inside story even mentions the previous Sunday’s report about the LVCVA “spending on wine, fancy meals and other perks.”

Assembly Bill 404, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Brittney Miller of Las Vegas, would create the office of inspector general, who would be appointed to a four-year term by the governor, and investigate “fraud and waste with respect to the use of public money.”

You’d think the paper would find room in the front page story to tout the effectiveness of its investigation to lead to a potential remedy. Or at least rub the bill in the faces of those shrugging off the matter.

Assemblywoman Brittney Miller tells an Assembly committee about her bill to create an office of inspector general to investigate waste and fraud. (R-J pix by R-J reporter)

 

 

 

 

Revamped newspaper targets a favorite target of its owner

On the same day the editor-in-chief of the Las Vegas newspaper takes to the front page to tout changes being made at the paper — changes that were already touted for a week on the front pages — the big investigative piece on the same front page was about lavish spending by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

While the headline on the editor’s piece touted “We’ve changed for the better,” that investigative piece suggested something else entirely. You see the owner of the paper is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson who also owns the Sands Expo Center.

In 1999 Adelson sued the LVCVA, saying the convention authority and a group of trade shows was in a “conspiracy to steal business from me.”

Adelson said plans to expand the convention center was unfair competition with his Sands Expo because LVCVA was offering discounted rates.

“Their predatory pricing behavior is against the law, as is tortious interference,” Adelson told the Las Vegas Sun at the time. “You’re not supposed to go after someone else’s customers. There are legal remedies for people who try to destroy business relationships. The LVCVA has conspired with one or more show managers to achieve the result of taking away our business. Trust me, I know this. The convention authority drafted the terms of the expansion and had proxies solicit the consortium members for them. And when we sue the people involved, everyone will run for cover and tell the truth.”

The suit was settled a year later.

 

When the LVCVA started talking about expanding again this past year, some suspect Adelson floated the idea of using room tax money for a football stadium for the Oakland Raiders as a way of funneling funds away from that expansion.

He told his newspaper at the time, “I have no economic reason or rationale to object to the convention center expansion, except to say that based on my experience that a stadium in Las Vegas is a must-have and the convention center expansion is not even a nice-to-have.”

He went on to say, “No shows are going to leave Las Vegas for another city. I’ve personally spoken to organizers, including the ones referenced by the LVCVA, and only one said his show could fit in another city — but he had no intention of even considering that. … Additionally, the likelihood of attracting new shows remains extremely unlikely. Many of the shows the LVCVA has targeted to bring to Las Vegas want to come during times early in the year when all of the hotel rooms in town are already booked with existing conventions.”

When the Nevada Policy Research Institute wrote about lavish spending by the LVCVA in 2007 it was criticized because Adelson was a contributor.

So, why was the first big investigative piece of the revamped newspaper about the LVCVA? (By the way, the paper also is touting a revamped and easier to navigate website coming Monday, but today I could not find the LVCVA investigative piece on that website. There is an item saying the investigative piece is coming soon.)

 

Raiders’ deal gives new meaning to the term Black Hole

They apparently call the section of the stadium taken over by the most ardent, raucous, symbol bedecked and loudest fans of the Oakland Raiders the Black Hole.

On Monday the NFL owners voted to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas, opening just a bit wider the chasm that will become a black hole into which Nevada taxpayers money will be endless, relentlessly sucked.

That $750 million in Clark County room tax money is just the first of the piles of tax money that will be swallowed by the supposedly $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed (doomed?) stadium that someday might house the Raiders and possibly UNLV football.

Artist depiction of a black hole (NASA)

Remember, the Nevada Department of Transportation estimates it will take $900 million to improve the roads to access the most likely stadium site. Don’t think for a minute that the billionaire Raiders owners are going to pay for that.

In any other development the developers pay for the roads. You see all those sawtooth roads around the valley — ones that switch back and forth from two lanes to four lanes? That is because first builders in the rural areas were only required to pay for two-lane roads, while later builders were asked to pay for wider roads. Who do you think paid for the parkway that provides access to Howard Hughes’ Summerlin development?

Then there will be demands for upgrades, just like at every other NFL stadium in the history of the world, fleecing the taxpayers for billions.

As for economic improvement, most workers will be minimum wage and part-time, adding more to the welfare rolls than lifting people off.

When billionaire hotel, casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson floated the idea of building a $1 billion stadium for the Raiders, I thought it would be like any other hotel amenity — just something to attract a few more suckers to the gambling tables and into the beds. But somehow Adelson wriggled out of his supposed $650 million commitment, though the stadium project lives, meaning he gets the amenity without footing the bill.

And who is to say it will ever cost $1.9 billion to which the price tag is said to have grown? Perhaps it can be built for less and stick the taxpayer with the bulk of the cost.

A stadium is a liability, not an asset. It is an insatiable maw that swallows tax money in perpetuity.

Black hole indeed.

The Black Hole

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.