Newspaper column: Lawmakers should punt on stadium funding plan

Gov. Brian Sandoval is calling the Legislature into special session in October to consider raising the room tax on Las Vegas tourists by almost 1 percentage point to put $750 million toward a $1.9 billion domed football stadium for the Oakland Raiders and the UNLV football team.

So, why should anyone other than those tourists who will be shelling out a couple bucks more a night even care? It’s other people’s money not ours.

But as Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands hotel-casino magnate who is pushing the stadium plan, is fond of saying: Money is fungible.

If state lawmakers approve the outlay, that will be $750 million — $268 for every man, woman and child in the state — not being spent on education, on roads, on other public services. Additionally, every dollar spent for tickets to events in the proposed stadium is a dollar that would have been spent buying goods, or at the gaming tables or in restaurants and bars — all of which are taxed.

The Adelson family reportedly plans to put up $650 million of their own money, while the Raiders and the NFL would chip in $500 million, but taxes would provide the most.

According to a 2014 economic impact study for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, $140 million of Clark County’s room tax went into the statewide distributive school account, $130 million for parks, recreation and transportation and nearly $80 million to Clark County schools. None of that additional $750 million in tax revenue would be available for those purposes.

Since the proposed stadium would be publicly owned, presumably it would pay no property taxes, which fund the state budget.

Speaking of fungible, in January the stadium was estimated to cost $1 billion, but grew to $1.2 billion in February with the taxpayer picking up 65 percent of the tab and the Sands 35 percent. By June the price tag had grown to $1.4 billion with the public chipping in $500 million, the Sands $400 million and the NFL and Raiders the rest.

Today the cost has ballooned to $1.9 billion with taxes covering 40 percent and the Sands 34 percent.

Does anyone think that if the stadium comes in under budget, at say $1.2 billion, that the developers will say: Never mind, taxpayers, we don’t need your money after all?

The more you tax something the less you get of it. Raising the room tax for that stadium plus another half cent or so to expand the Las Vegas convention center would make the city room tax the highest in the nation. Visitors might choose to dispose of their disposable income where it goes a bit further.

In a statement announcing his plans to call the special legislative session to consider funding the stadium, convention center expansion and more Las Vegas police officers, Gov. Sandoval pontificated, “We have before us the opportunity to invest in Nevada’s most foundational industry, tourism, by providing for the infrastructure and public safety needs of the 21st century. We can and must usher in a new era for tourism in the Las Vegas market …”

But economists have been telling us for years that stadiums are more of a drain on an economy than an investment. Most of the jobs created by stadiums are part-time and minimum wage.

In his book “Field of Schemes,” author Neil deMause estimates that sports stadiums and arenas drain $2 billion a year from public treasuries to provide profits for millionaire team owners.

Sandoval decided to call the special session after receiving a recommendation from the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee.

“I have thoroughly reviewed the committee’s documents and I am comfortable with the recommendations related to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority expansion, additional support for law enforcement, and the development of a county-owned stadium that could host a National Football League franchise and be the home of University of Nevada, Las Vegas football,” Sandoval stated.

This will be Sandoval’s third special session, the other two provided billions in tax breaks for electric car makers Tesla Motors and Faraday Future — neither of which has yet proven to be worthwhile. Sandoval keeps throwing tax money at billionaires.

No one has said how much UNLV will be charged to play at this “publicly owned” stadium.

Any tax increase will require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers statewide for passage — 14 in the Senate and 28 in the Assembly. This should be a referendum, just weeks before the election, on who represents the people and who is obliged to power brokers.

 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.
Rendering of proposed stadium.

Rendering of proposed stadium.

Update: Stadium opponents spell out reasons why it is a bad deal.

Editorial: Will Congress allow BLM to curb horse overpopulation?

Wild horses near Bald Mountain. (Elko Daily Free Press file photo)

Wild horses near Bald Mountain. (Elko Daily Free Press file photo)

Earlier this month at a meeting in Elko the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voted to recommend to the Bureau of Land Management that it actually follow the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 “by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible,” according to the Elko Daily Free Press account.

The recommendation was approved by all the board members except one after the board toured the range land in the area and saw first hand the destruction caused by an overpopulation of feral horses.

The newspaper quoted board member Dr. Robert Cope as saying that after the field trip “it became so obvious there’s an incredible crisis situation out there affecting the resource” and “something has got to be done.”

The current problem is that Congress has for years prohibited using federal funds to follow the law and euthanize unadoptable wild horses and burros or even allow them to be sold for processing into commercial products.

Congressman Mark Amodei, whose district includes much of Nevada’s wild horse territory, remarked, “This is one of those areas where actually Congress has created a lot of the problem with the amendment that prohibits euthanasia as something that needs to be evaluated as part of the solution to managing these folks.”

Budgets since at least 2009 has stipulated that no funds are to used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros …”

“Regardless of where you are at the issue,” Amodei said, “you cannot look in the mirror and look yourself in the eye and say, whatever we’ve been doing is working, because what we have is holding facilities throughout the nation that are within 10,000 animals of being full. We have an annual feeding bill in the 10s of millions, which quite frankly BLM even says is not sustainable.”

The BLM is being crushed under the financial burden of feeding wild horses, he said.

There are an estimated 70,000 wild horses and burros on the open range, 40,000 more than the range can handle, and that number can grow by 9,000 a year without intervention.

“Here’s the last piece of the puzzle that will make your eyes roll, BLM will tell you that the population doubles at the present reproduction rate about every four years,” Amodei noted. “It is an exacerbated problem as we speak and it is only going to grow geometrically.”

Congress has to do something rather than nothing, he said.

“The only reason it’s been allowed to get to this point is quite frankly it’s a Western problem that affects Western congressional districts which are represented by about 22 people,” the congressman reasoned. “If this was an innercity urban problem it would’ve been solved decades ago.”

Coincidentally, on the same day the advisory board recommended euthanizing excess horses, the BLM canceled an experimental program to test sterilization techniques, because it was being sued by some self-styled animal rights groups.

The Congressional Western Caucus responded with a press release saying, “Responsible sterilization could help stem the exploding wild horse populations on federal lands in the West. Yet the BLM dropped the project under the threat of litigation by a special interest group. BLM Director Neil Kornze has said his agency is ‘overwhelmed’ by the growing herds, and described the situation as dire. The wild horse and burro population is nearly triple what the rangelands can support. As a result, the lands are being obliterated and the horses are dying of thirst and starvation.”

Amodei, a member of the caucus, added, “It is discouraging to see the agency has such a low opinion of its own administrative procedures that it won’t even defend them in court.”

He noted that the BLM denied a number of grazing permits in Elko County because wild horses had wiped out the vegetation. If cattle had done that there would have been a hue and cry, he noted.

“The last time this wasn’t a problem was when wild horses were treated like every other animal on the range, every other animal on the range, whether it be domestic or wild. We manage for deer. We manage for jack rabbits. We manage for cows. We manage for sheep. We manage for mountain lions. We manage for bears, but we’re not going to manage for horses,” Amodei said. “That makes no sense.”

Some people want to love the horses to death — a slow, painful, agonizing death.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.


Newspaper column: Nevada attorney general hits the road to listen to constituents

Attorney General Adam Laxalt addresses constituents in Elko recently. (Elko Daily Free Press photo)

Attorney General Adam Laxalt addresses constituents in Elko recently. (Elko Daily Free Press photo)

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has been taking a page from his grandfather’s playbook in recent weeks touring various communities in the state with some of his staff and conducting townhall meetings with concerned citizens in what he calls “AG for a Day.”

He says the idea is a homage to grandfather Paul Laxalt’s practice of touring the state with his cabinet and staff members while governor. The senior Laxalt called it his “Capital for a Day” tour.

A couple of weeks ago Adam Laxalt crisscrossed Northern Nevada and this week he has been meeting constituents across Southern Nevada.

“Our goal has been to try to bring our office to the people …” he explained in a recent interview. “I think government is best that is closest to the people, and so for us to get out there and make sure we are up to date on what is on everyone’s mind. It’s been very successful in that respect.”

Laxalt said one of the most common concerns expressed to him and his staff has been about federal government overreach when it comes to regulations and restrictions. To address this he has created a solicitor general office in his agency, which is essentially the state’s lawyer.

That office, he said, has been able to work very aggressively to create some federal-state boundaries and bring Nevada to the negotiation table on some of the big issues.

“People are pretty excited that this office has been active in that federalism space and working hard to try to give our local economy and some of our most important sectors some space to survive in some cases and ideally to be able to grow and thrive down the road,” Laxalt said. “We’re working very hard to do the best we can with our limited resources.”

The attorney general’s office is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management over land use restrictions being imposed on agriculture, mining, oil and gas and recreation in the name of protecting greater sage grouse habitat.

Laxalt has argued that the BLM’s sage grouse protection efforts blatantly disregard the input of Nevada experts and stakeholders in violation of federal law.

The attorney general’s office also has been actively involved in the waters of the United States (WOTUS) rules that were being promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to wrest control of every stream, ditch, wetland or muddy spot that might eventually spill a few drops of water into any rivulet, even though water rights have always been under the purview of the states.

Laxalt joined 22 other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in this case. A couple of months ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the current regulations are too broad, but there is more legal wrangling to come.

In addition to the battle over sage grouse and water, Laxalt joined other attorneys general to challenge the president’s executive order granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants with U.S. citizen children. A recent 4-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling put the executive order on hold for now.

His office also has worked with Elko County in its attempts to keep open a road in the Jarbidge Wilderness area and with a church fighting for water rights in Nye County.

Laxalt said he and his staffers have also fielded questions about his office’s program to help military personnel, the first of its kind in the nation, as well as efforts to stem domestic violence, fraud and Open Meeting Law violations.

“I think that attorneys general across the country have been what we like to call the last line of defense and, as we face the coming months of the close of this administration, typically presidents take their lame duck status gracefully and slow down on the way out,” Laxalt observed, “but this president and his administration has signaled that they’re going to crank up the rule making process and try to change as many rules as possible. So attorneys general are standing ready to prevent any of these rules that have not gone through the proper rule making process or that we think are outside of their legal jurisdiction.”

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.

Editorial: One person’s bias is another’s fact-based judgment

Walker Lake (BLM photo)

Walker Lake (BLM photo)

Fair treatment looks like bias to those who are accustomed to being shown obsequious deference.

Once again federal lawyers who have been handed a rejection of their legal arguments by a federal judge are claiming that their case was not weak but that the judge is biased.

After having their case summarily thrown out in the 92-year-old lawsuit, U.S. v. Walker River Irrigation District, federal lawyers are asking that the judge in the case be recused, alleging he is biased against the federal government, according to an account in the Mineral County Independent-News. (motion-to-recuse)

The case involves a question of which party has the rights to certain waters in the Walker River basin. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones sided with the irrigation district.

In January, federal lawyers managed to get the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss Judge Jones off the 25-year-old land and water rights case involving the Hage ranching family of Nevada by using a bias claim.

A longtime Nevada practitioner before the 9th Circuit said, “The Circuit’s action in Hage was highly unusual. The 9th Circuit often reverses district courts, and occasionally reassigns cases, but it is rare for them to make a finding of actual bias.”

Rare but perhaps not rare enough.

Apparently a judge’s hard-earned, keen-eyed experience constitutes bias to the appellate court. All Judge Jones did was accuse government officials of entering into “a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive the Hages not only of their permits but also of their vested water rights. This behavior shocks the conscience …”

He ruled that the government had interfered in the case by urging others to apply for Hage’s grazing permits, by applying themselves for Hage’s water rights and by issuing trespass notices against witnesses soon after they had testified. All in a day’s work for a federal bureaucrat in the eyes of the appellate court?

In the Walker River case the feds found evidence of bias in the fact that Judge Jones had stated, “I believe in constitutional rights. I believe in protecting the rights of the Native Americans and in property rights that have been recognized over time, I believe in that and that’s my agenda.”

Then, according to federal lawyers, there is this damning comment from the judge, “[E]ven though the government in many cases didn’t have the right to insist upon a permit … nevertheless, the government in many cases has insisted upon it. … I don’t like and never have liked the BLM’s or Forest Service’s arrogant presumption that they could assess to people for … trespass, their own travel costs, office costs, sitting in their big chair already paid for by the American taxpayer.”

How dare he show prejudice against bureaucrats hell bent on running rough shod over the rights of the serfs! Who does he think he is, a federal judge?

The prosecutors also took issue with how the judge ruled against them, saying, “In ruling on the motions to dismiss, Judge Jones determined, sua sponte, that all of the water right claims of the United States were barred by res judicata or, in the alternative, laches. Yet, no motion to dismiss was based on either res judicata or laches and the United States never had the opportunity to substantively address the legal and factual merits of any such claims.”

Sua sponte is legalese for acting on his own accord, while res judicata means the matter has already been settled by the courts and laches means time has run out — after only 92 years?

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that it is a “long-recognized inherent power of Federal District Courts, acting on their own initiative, to dismiss cases that have remained dormant because of the inaction or dilatoriness of the parties …”

Knowing the track record of the uber-liberal 9th Circuit, we suspect Judge Jones will get the boot again and this case will drag on for another century or so, but, if justice is ever to be served, things need to change.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Fight to replace Reid in Senate becoming a proxy war

Be careful with whom you pick a fight. They might fight back with some heavy artillery.

For years Harry Reid has been obsessively ranting and mewling about the wealthy Koch brothers, Charles and David, for deigning to spend their own money to express their free speech rights. He has pejoratively mentioned the brothers from the well of the Senate more than 130 times.

He even has a page on his official Senate website devoted to lambasting the brothers Koch. According to the 17 talking points on the page, the Kochs want to pollute the air, foul the water, dismantle Social Security, Medicare, ObamaCare, minimum wage laws and public education.

Though the Koch brothers this election season are largely staying out of presidential politics, they are pouring money into Nevada in an effort to help a Republican capture Reid’s Senate seat, now that he is retiring. They have already spent $6 million backing Republican Rep. Joe Heck and attacking former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Reid’s hand-picked Democrat successor, according to ThinkProgess, a liberal website.

Heck and Cortez Masto (AP photo)

Heck and Cortez Masto (AP photo)

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC that is part of the Koch brothers’ network, currently is spending more than $600,000 on a television ad accusing Cortez Masto of outsourcing legal work to a D.C. law firm that later contributed to her election campaign, calling her a special interest politician.

According to the latest polls, Heck and Cortez Masto are tied, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Nevada by more than 70,000 registered voters.

A story in the Las Vegas newspaper recently reported that the Kochs’ Americans For Prosperity is working on a so-called ground game to challenge Reid’s vaunted army of union volunteers who bus casino workers to the polls with pre-selected sample ballots.

The Kochs are putting their money where their mouths are.

Reid seems to think that money alone will persuade people, but there also has to be believable content in the message. Reid has pounded the Kochs so often he sounds like a broken record. His criticism seems downright hypocritical when the Senate minority leader can call a press conference at the drop of a hat and get coverage from a vast majority of the broadcast and print media — without spending a dime.

It looks like a proxy war is now breaking out, with the Koch brothers’ independent support of Heck’s senatorial campaign becoming the target of a nearly million-dollar television ad campaign by a group called the League of Conservation Voters.

The ad makes a non sequitur attempt to somehow link the fact the Koch brothers’ got filthy rich in the oil business — while most of us just got filthy in the grease orchard, but that’s a story for another day — to an alleged antipathy on Heck’s part for renewable energy.

The ad claims Heck’s alleged favoritism toward oil risks Nevada wind and solar energy jobs, even though less than 1 percent of electricity in this country is produced with oil.

As for jobs, it is the League of Conservation Voters that is attacking jobs. According to its own website, it pushes for a tougher Endangered Species Act, which kills jobs, opposes drilling anywhere, which kills jobs, and wants to shut down any activity that contributes to carbon production, which kills jobs.

Heck sent out a press release countering the claims in the ad.

“While Dr. Heck has been a strong supporter of solar jobs in Nevada, including legislation to streamline renewable energy development across the state, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is a DC-based partisan special interest that wants to put Nevadans out of work by stopping responsible mining, ranching, agriculture and recreation,” Heck spokesperson Brian Baluta said. “And, as Attorney General, Catherine Cortez Masto showed herself to be no friend of solar when she introduced a bill to exempt the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from the open meeting law, allowing the PUC to raise rates behind closed doors. This bogus attack has nothing to do with clean energy and everything to do with installing Chuck Schumer as the next Senate Majority Leader.”

In fact, Heck has backed tax credits for wind and solar, which, frankly, drive up the cost of power and kills jobs. So, he’s no purist.

On the League’s scorecard Heck’s voting record agreed with its stances only 8 percent of the time, compared to Reid’s 81 percent. There’s a contrast Heck should be proud of.

It’s going to get ugly, folks.

Americans for Prosperity ad:

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.


Editorial: But words can never hurt us

Public discourse is not for the squeamish. Governing is seldom a decorous endeavor.

In fact, Nevada’s statute on public meetings encourages open debate and colloquy to the point that it absolutely exempts public officials from being sued for defamation over anything said in a public meeting.

Thus we were gratified to see this principle of allowing vigorous and unbridled debate be upheld recently by an Ely municipal judge, who threw out an assault charge filed by one Ely councilwoman against another over admittedly intemperate comments made during a public meeting.

Pat Robison in court. (Ely Times photo)

Pat Robison in court. (Ely Times photo)

According to an Ely Times account, Councilwoman Jolene Gardner filed assault charges against Councilwoman Pat Robison after she remarked about Gardner, “I will put her down,” and then said, “I will put her under the table.” The remarks were made at a joint meeting of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation trustees and managers.

Under Nevada law assault is: “Unlawfully attempting to use physical force against another person,” or “Intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm.”

In asking the Municipal Court Judge Mike Kalleres to dismiss the charge, Assistant District Attorney James Beecher said no “reasonable person” would have felt threatened by those remarks. As for the “put her under the table” statement, Beecher said, “I don’t even know what that means, your honor, and if I don’t know what that means, then I cannot in good conscience come in here and argue to the court that a reasonable person would have been fearful, in that situation, with imminent bodily harm.”

Beecher told the judge his office had reviewed a video of the meeting and found: “No reasonable person would have felt threatened in that situation.”

He said such meetings can get heated but that did not warrant pursuing criminal charges whenever someone is offended.

We thought they only did that on college campuses.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: BLM sage grouse guidelines will bury land users in paperwork

The Bureau of Land Management this past week issued eight guideline memos instructing federal land managers in 11 Western states as to how they are to carry out policies intended to protect greater sage grouse — a move that threatens to bury ranchers, miners, oil and gas explorers and construction companies under a mountain of paperwork and impose lengthy delays, while doing little to actually protect the birds.

The move comes a year after the Interior Department declined to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act but instead issued reams of land use restrictions meant to protect the grouse, even though the number of male grouse counted in leks across the West had increased by 63 percent between 2013 and 2015, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Restrictions are being imposed even though sage grouse are legally hunted in many Western states, including Nevada.

Like the record of decision on sage grouse management issued this past September, the memos largely ignore one of the biggest threats to the colorfully plumed, ground-dwelling grouse — predators, primarily ravens and coyotes — and address almost entirely human economic endeavors. The 90-page record of decision used the word predator only once.

The memos, signed by BLM Deputy Director Steven Ellis, open with statements of purpose that say they are to provide guidance for analyzing and establishing thresholds for land use, with separate memos addressing grazing permits and general surface disturbances.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, immediately fired off a statement denouncing the guidelines as a ploy by the Obama administration to block oil and gas development.

“These plans, written as if the sage grouse were listed, are proof it was an underhanded, de facto listing scheme that further oppresses Western states,” Bishop said in a written statement provided to The Associated Press.

Republican Congressman Joe Heck, who is running to replace Harry Reid in the Senate, commented, “With these new guidelines, the administration continues to disregard the input of state and local stakeholders, like our ranching and mining families, whose livelihoods depend on being good stewards of the land. Unfortunately, the guidelines have more to do with avoiding costly lawsuits from special interests, like my opponent Catherine Cortez Masto’s biggest campaign donor, the League of Conservation Voters, than they do with actual conservation. And Nevada’s economy will pay the price.”

If there is a bright spot in any of this micromanaging from Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, it is that two days prior to the memos being sent out the Interior Department inked a deal with Newmont Mining and its ranching subsidiary to jointly manage sage grouse habitat so the company can continue mining operations and exploration, as well as grazing, in Nevada. Wildlife and natural resource agencies of the state helped broker the deal.

A statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office called the agreement a first of its kind in scope and scale. It was not mentioned that Newmont was under considerable duress to cut a deal with federal land agencies, which held all the cards, though Sandoval called the deal a good-faith, public-private partnership.

“Through this historic agreement, Newmont has committed to implementing a wide-ranging, landscape-level conservation plan that includes voluntarily managing certain areas of its private rangelands and ranches in Nevada to achieve net conservation gains for sagebrush species,” Sandoval said in a press release.

Though the BLM guideline memos envision grazing restrictions to protect grouse, the Newmont deal specifically notes that one of the first pilot projects to be implemented under the agreement will use targeted grazing to reduce cheatgrass, an invasive species that contributes to the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

The Newmont deal also makes a vague reference to implementing “practices to reduce human-induced advantages for predators of greater sage-grouse” — presumably fewer fence posts and power line poles from which ravens can scout for nests with eggs.

The BLM’s handling of the sage grouse issue remains in active litigation in federal court, where the agency is being sued by Nevada, nine rural counties, two mining companies and a ranch, with Attorney General Adam Laxalt taking the lead, despite Sandoval’s reluctance.

Laxalt has stated that the BLM’s grouse efforts blatantly disregard the input of Nevada experts and stakeholders in violation of federal law.

The BLM’s own economist has estimated that the grouse habitat conservation efforts will cost Nevada $31 million and 493 jobs annually.

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.

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)