Attorney offers a glimpse of the future of the commerce tax

Craig Mueller, the attorney for a group seeking to repeal the 2015 commerce tax calling themselves RIP Commerce Tax, argued before the state Supreme Court today that the group should be allowed to collect signatures and have the repeal placed before the voters in November.

Nevada Controller Ron Knecht is heading up the repeal effort.

Though it is hardly a legal argument, as one justice told him, Mueller spelled out a strong political argument against the commerce tax:

When the federal government first proposed an income tax in 19 aught 6 or so, I don’t remember the exact year, it was supposed to be on millionaires, on the edge of the Golden Age. A hundred years later, everyone pays income tax.

Now, the two things I’ve noticed about government, it never gets any smaller, taxes never go down.

Now I hate to be cynical about these things, but those are a simply statement of facts. My clients are very concerned about that trend and very concerned they don’t have their say on this tax.

Just moving the dial forward another 10 or 12 years, this tax goes down 4 million dollars to 3 million to 2 million and it starts to looking an awful lot like a state income tax.

Mueller also noted that the voters turned down a gross receipts tax — identical to the commerce tax in principle if not in specifics — in November 2014 by a margin of 4-to-1. The Legislature passed the commerce tax with the required two-thirds majority and the governor signed it.

Nevada Assistant State Controller Geoffrey Lawrence, left, and Controller Ron Knecht present an alternative to Gov. Brian Sandoval‘s tax plan in May. (R-J photo)

The Coalition for Nevada’s Future argued the petition should not be allowed to go forward because its language is confusing and its form does not conform strictly with legal requirements. They also argue repeal would unbalance the state budget. The state Constitution requires a balanced budget.

Mueller noted the tax is expected to raise only $60 million a year as currently written and the interim finance committee has handed much bigger shortfalls in the past due to economic slumps.

The commerce tax would impose a gross receipts tax on all businesses grossing more than $4 million a year. It has different tax tables for 27 different industries — ranging from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation in 67 different levels of revenue. And there is nothing to prevent future legislatures from ratcheting up those rates or lowering the threshold.

One of the complications of the ballot measure is that if the voters allow the tax to stand as written, some argue the Legislature would not be able to alter it in any way without a vote of the people. If the people repeal, lawmakers could not impose a similar tax without a vote of the people.

Carson City Judge James Wilson earlier ruled, “The court concludes even if the Legislature enacts a statute, the people do not lose their constitutional right to submit the statute to a vote of the people.”

The justices should rule fairly soon because the group has a deadline of June 21 to collect enough signatures.

Federal land agencies sacrifice our tax dollars at the altar of their god

2013 Carpenter 1 fire on Mount Charleston

Luddites!

This is a passage from a story in today’s Las Vegas newspaper about plans to open two trails on Mount Charleston that were closed three years ago after a major fire, I kid you not:

Much of the work will take place within a federal wilderness area, so workers won’t be allowed to use mechanized equipment such as trucks, chainsaws or heavy construction machinery to access the trails or remove debris.

There was talk of using explosives to clear away some of the largest fallen trees, but the crews will use hand saws, picks and shovels instead, said Naaman Horn, spokesman for Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.

“Explosives are allowed in wilderness areas, but we’re planning to do the work with the minimum tool,” he said.

It won’t be easy. Horn said there are hundreds of downed trees blocking trails in and around the 28,000-acre area burned by Carpenter 1. The largest is a ponderosa about 12 feet in diameter.

Those who worship the god Gaia have no qualms about spending your involutary tithes on thousands of man-hours of backbreaking manual labor if it means not disturbing their vengeful deity with sacrilegious machines and explosions. If they really want to appease their god they should be using stone tools.

Come to think of it those horses and mules they plan to use to haul in their hand saws to clear 12-foot diameter trees are not native and shouldn’t be allowed. Maybe the workers should just gnaw the trees with their teeth.

The story indicates the feds have no idea how long it will take the two six-person crews to open the trails and the story has no estimate of what it will cost. Doubtless the cost would be considerably less if the workers could use bobcats, backhoes, bulldozers, chainsaws and explosives, but are the devil’s creation and verboten on god’s mountain.

Why bother? Just leave it until it burns again.

Gaia, by Anselm Feuerbach (1875)

 

Editorial: Nevada water law needs to be more flexible

Humboldt River (John Lane photo)

Nevada is the driest state in the union and lawmakers are grappling with how water law in the state could be changed to cope with that fact.

The Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Study Water — chaired by state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, a Diamond Valley rancher whose district covers all of Elko, Eureka, Lincoln and White Pine counties and parts of Clark and Nye counties — met in Las Vegas this past week to hear seven hours of testimony on this topic. Other meetings are being scheduled around the state.

The first Nevada water law was passed in 1866 and recognized the vital role of mining in Nevada. The current law recognizes the basic principles of prior appropriation and beneficial use: First in time is first in right, but the water must be put to a beneficial use or the right is forfeited.

Jason King, the state engineer whose office determines water rights within the state, suggested several changes in the law, including “conjunctive management” of surface and ground water.

“We do not have anything in statute that allows us to conjunctively manage the surface water and ground water. …” King told the panel. “At a minimum we’d like to see some acknowledgment that our office has the ability to deal with surface water and ground water together.”

In prepared comments for the meeting, King’s office noted that the early history of water development in Nevada focused on surface water, and it was not until 1907 that issues regarding the use of groundwater began to emerge. Wells drilled in Las Vegas, for example, resulted in declines of spring flows and a drop in the water table. Not until 1913 did the Legislature enact a law that provided all water, surface and groundwater, is subject to appropriation.

King pointed out that the drought has caused conflicts between the holders of water permits for surface water and groundwater, and, if his office can’t mitigate those conflicts, the courts may rule the senior surface rights take precedent over the junior rights of water well owners and those wells could be ordered shut down to protect stream flows.

King also told the committee the law needs to be changed to allow flexibility in water management, including recognizing water banking as a beneficial use, suspending the use-it-or-lose it aspect of the law and changing the law’s priority structure under which domestic household water wells would have to be curtailed if they impacted senior surface water rights, calling that an obvious health and safety issue. King noted that 98 percent of domestic wells in Nevada have junior rights.

“It’s not anything our office gets any satisfaction out of, but I tell you we stand prepared to curtail by priority if we need to. …” the state engineer explained the requirement under current law. “Obviously, we don’t want to do that, but we’re ready to do that and that is our hammer in the water law.”

He said an example of cooperative water planning and mitigation occurred when Ely agreed to allow a copper mine to essentially dry up a stream in exchange for the jobs and economic benefits of the mine, and said his office needs that kind of flexibility.

King also called for metering of the vast majority of water used in the state, surface and groundwater, saying, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

One presenter at the water law meeting noted that a recent study found that in the Colorado River Basin the period of 2000 to 2015 was the driest 16-year period in the 101-year historical record for the basin and there are forecasts that suggest the region may be due for a three-decade-long megadrought.

On the other hand, a study of tree rings along the banks of the Colorado River by researchers from the University of Arizona found that the 20th century was the wettest of any century going back to the 4th century B.C.

So, what Nevada is experiencing now may well be normal and the wet 20th century was the anomaly — making it more urgent than ever to enact equitable changes to water law and experiment with allowing water to be bought and sold on the free market, the best way to allocate any commodity.

A version of this editorial appears this past 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.

Subcommittee of energy task force agrees rooftop solar panel rates should be grandfathered

Perhaps there is hope for rooftop solar panel owners yet to save their investments.

According to an article posted on the Las Vegas Sun’s website Thursday afternoon, but not deemed worthy of being printed today, the Governor’s New Energy Industry Task Force Technical Advisory Committee on Distributed Generation and Storage agreed in principle to allow current residential solar panel owners’ rates to be grandfathered until 2035.

The agenda for the meeting of that panel Thursday included a presentation by solar panel installer SolarCity and discussion of the value of distributed solar generation, as well as a review of alternatives to the net metering rates passed by the Public Utilities Commission at the beginning of the year.

The PUC voted to “transition” to new net metering rates over 12 years and eventually increase the connection fee for solar panel customers from $12.75 to $38.51 a month and cut the credit for power uploaded to the grid from 11 cents per kWh to 2.6 cents — to the point some solar panels owners could be paying more for power than neighbors without solar panels.

The PUC swallowed NV Energy’s bogus argument that it is paying rooftop solar power generators 11 cents per kWh for excess energy, which is more than twice the 4.4 cents per kWh the utility company pays for energy on the open market. But that 4.4 cents is the 24-hour average. Solar panels generate extra power during the peak period when rates can easily exceed 30 cents per kWh.

The Sun article said Thursday’s agreement is a first step toward possible legislation repeal of the PUC action, so any change probably won’t come until June 2017 at the close of the legislative session in Carson City.

SolarCity told the panel that it plans to release a report in the coming weeks showing that solar panel owners are not being subsidized by non-panel owners to the tune of $52 a month, as NV Energy contends, but rather benefit all ratepayers by at least two cents per kWh.

In February, The Alliance for Solar Choice told the PUC that each residential solar panel owner provides a net benefit of $12.08 per month to NV Energy customers.

The technical panel is to continue discussion of the topic at a May 18 meeting.

 

John L. Smith: The tweets heard ’round the newsroom

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While the management of the Las Vegas newspaper wimps out and refuses to acknowledge to its readers that its 30-year star columnist, John L. Smith, has resigned, the Las Vegas Sun insert in that paper today broke the news with a story in print that it had first posted online on Tuesday evening. A little slow on the uptake over at the Sun.

That Sun story relates:

On Saturday, editor Keith Moyer (editor of the Review-Journal) told a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists at UNLV that Smith would no longer be allowed to write about Adelson “as long as I’m editor,” according to an R-J reporter who tweeted details of the event. Smith had written numerous times about Adelson, including in a December 2015 R-J column following the revelation that the billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate and his family had purchased the paper.

In that column, Smith called Adelson “precisely the wrong person to own this or any newspaper.”

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According to a Politico source, Smith was first told not to write about Adelson on Jan. 28, the same day that Craig Moon was named publisher of the paper, but that did not become public until Saturday, when Moyer used the excuse of the lawsuit as a conflict of interest, even though the suit was thrown out and Smith had written about Adelson many times over the years since then.

Apparently Moyer was not aware that Smith had also been sued unsuccessfully by casino owner Steve Wynn, because the reporter tweeted:

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This series of exchanges prompted a retweet by Smith and some additional commentary of the 140-character variety:

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Reportedly Smith and the reporter were chewed out for embarrassing the paper with their Twitter comments, though it was the editor who publicly embarrassed the paper. Smith was also told he could not write about Wynn, though he had recently been writing about the legal power struggle between Wynn and his ex-wife.

Smith resigned on Tuesday and the paper has since been silent on the matter.

“If I can’t do my job, if I can’t hold the heavyweights in the community to account, then I’m just treading water,” Smith told NPR in an interview. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but there was no other decision to make — at least in my mind.”

Adelson sued Smith in 2005 over a passage in a book called “Sharks in the Desert” that Adelson’s attorneys said were false implications that Adelson “was associated with unsavory characters and unsavory activities.”

The case was dismissed in 2008 when Smith’s attorney obtained access to confidential Gaming Control Board records relating to Adelson’s gaming license. Had the case gone to trial, that could have become evidence. But with the dismissal it remains sealed.

In an affidavit filed in the case, attorney Don Campbell wrote that the “most compelling reason for Adelson’s dramatic desire to dismiss was unquestionably the fact that Smith was about to acquire evidence from the Gaming Control Board which would, by any reasonable analysis, lend itself to thoroughly impeaching critical portions of Mr. Adelson’s sworn testimony as it related to his personal and business history. …

“In short, Adelson’s claims were about to be exposed for what they were … false and vindictive.”

Moyer wrote in an email to NPR, “I was sorry to see him resign and I wish him the very best. I decided that the strongest measure was best for the Review-Journal. John had thousands of other people, things and news events from which to choose to write about.”

According to NPR, then-interim managing editor Glenn Cook had told Smith he could not write about Adelson, to which Smith replied, “He’s the one who sued me, he lost, and I’m conflicted?”

Smith says Cook told him: “You can’t do it or you’ll be fired.”

Moyer told NPR, “I never suggested or believed John would use his column to settle a personal score, but if his writing on Adelson and Wynn created even a perception of score settling in the minds of readers, then it would have reflected on the credibility of the institution. Invoking ‘conflict of interest’ restrictions might not be common in Nevada, but they are elsewhere.”

Moyer took the opportunity to lecture those who might deign to criticize the paper’s management and/or ownership: “The real question reporters should be asking is: ‘Did Sheldon Adelson order the ban?’ But I suspect they’re not asking that because they’ve already made up their minds that he did. Shame on them.”

Shame?

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Orwell was right: Control the words, control the thoughts

When you control the language, you are closer to controlling the argument.

The press lexicon all across the state of Nevada has settled on calling Republicans who voted in the 2015 legislative session for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.5 billion tax hike — at least it now $1.5 billion instead of $1.1 billion as it was wrongly called for so long — “moderate” and “traditional” Republicans, while those who are challenging them in the GOP primary in June are “conservative” Republicans, which I thought was a redundancy.

What is moderate or traditional about passing the largest tax increase in state history, while doing absolutely nothing to rein in spending, not even repealing the prevailing wage law that jacks up the price of every public works project in the state by as much as 40 percent, as well as no public pension or collective bargaining reforms?

George Orwell wrote in 1946:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous …

Sadly, the mislabeling is not the only problem, as one of the “moderate” Republicans notes in today’s newspaper account of this issue, “But when you go knock on doors, few souls even know that there was a tax vote or that taxes had been increased at any level.”

Both sides of the GOP split are predicting primary victories, but the Democrats are claiming they will regain a majority of the Assembly in November, making it all for naught.

Republican Assemblyman Brent Jones, said to be leading a group of primary challenges to Republicans who supported tax hikes. (R-J file photo)

Editorial: Let the political parties choose their candidates without the state’s interference

A change in election law in the 2015 Legislature has some claiming they are being disenfranchised.

Previously, when the state-run Democratic and Republican primaries resulted in only one of the two major parties having contested primaries, the top two vote earners in the contested primary would advance to the November General Election or, if only two candidates sought a seat, there would be no primary and both would be on the November ballot.

But Senate Bill 499 changed the law to now read: “If a major political party has two or more candidates for a particular office, the person who receives the highest number of votes at the primary election must be declared the nominee of that major political party for the office.”

Thus, for example, if there are only Republicans seeking an office, one of them is the party nominee and appears on the ballot in November, leaving Democrats and independents and those of the minor parties in the district little choice save the one Republican Party members handed them.

The bill also moved back the deadline for independent and minor party candidates to qualify for the General Election from June to July, so a Democrat could still file as an independent but not as a nominee of the party.

In one state Senate race and three Assembly races there are candidates on the June 14 primary for only one of the two major political parties, according to press accounts.

The change in law creates some different dynamics.

Take for example Assembly District 19, which includes Mesquite. Incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards is being challenged in the primary by Republican Connie Foust. Only 39 percent of the district is Republican.

Edwards has the distinction of voting for most of the $1.4 billion in tax hikes in 2015 before voting against them.

Conceivably Edwards would have a better chance of re-election if he faced Foust in a General Election with Democrats and others also voting rather than in a GOP-only primary.

Foust is thumping on the tax issue in her campaign against Edwards. “The current incumbent broke his promise when he said, ‘Now is not the time to raise taxes’, and then proceeded to vote for tax increases in 26 out of 32 tax bills!” Foust’s campaign website declares.

Similar dynamics could be a factor in other races and alter the outcome of the election.

As originally introduced SB499 was a weird form of open primary. All candidates of all parties would have appeared on a single primary ballot and the top two vote recipients would advance to the general, unless they both were of the same party.

As signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval the gutted bill now just changes minor party and independent candidate filing deadlines and allows only one Democrat or one Republican to advance to November.

This is why some are saying they are being disenfranchised by having limited choices.

Frankly, lawmakers are the last people who should be telling the parties how to choose their candidates. The parties are private entities that should choose their candidates in any way they see fit — privately funded caucuses, primaries, smoke-filled backrooms or “American Idol”-style voting via text message or arm-wrestling competition.

The state doesn’t conduct primaries for the Libertarian, American Independent, Green or Communist parties, why do it for just two?

Not only is the U.S. Constitution silent on political parties, our Founders were actually disdainful of political parties.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other,” John Adams wrote in 1780. “This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Let the parties choose their candidates without lawmakers dabbling in the process.

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in many 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. It ran as a column in the Elko Daily Free Press.

Nevada primary voting in 2014 (R-J photo)