Newspaper column: Rural water grab may be dead in the water

A state judge’s implacable ruling this past week may have finally forestalled attempts by the Clark County water agency to tap groundwater from White Pine, Nye and Lincoln counties.

Senior District Judge Robert Estes rejected proposals by the state water engineer to grant groundwater rights to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), calling the plan illogical, contrary to state water law, as well as arbitrary and capricious.

In 1989 the agency that is now the SNWA filed paperwork with the state engineer to lay claim to 589,000 acre-feet of groundwater in central Nevada, planning to drill a network of water wells and a 300-mile pipeline from near Ely to Las Vegas. The litigation began immediately. Since then the amount of water sought has been trimmed to 84,000 acre-feet while the price tag on the pipeline has grown to an estimated $15 billion.

A lawyer for the Great Basin Water Network (GBWN), which along with White Pine County filed suit seeking to block the water grab, called the ruling a death knell.

“Judge Estes saw clearly through the various subterfuges and false reasoning advanced by both SNWA and the State Engineer, and he systematically ruled against them on every significant point in contention,” said public interest water attorney Simeon Herskovits in an emailed press release. “In our view, the rigor and care in Judge Estes’s ruling makes it highly unlikely that any part of this ruling would be subject to reversal on appeal. Under any reasonable reading, this powerful ruling should sound the death knell for this fatally misguided and potentially devastating groundwater export proposal.”

Estes’ language in his ruling was often stern. At one point he wrote, “Illogically, the Engineer has concluded that sustainability and beneficial use are mutually exclusive. Actually, sustainability and maximum beneficial use are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other. This not a case of this Court substituting its judgment for that of the current Engineer. It is a case of this Court agreeing with the Engineer’s practice before the Engineer’s, for no logical, lawful or rational reason for changing the definitions of perennial yield.

“For decades, Nevada’s Water Engineers have recognized — and stated — that water appropriations must be sustainable, indefinitely, for both the appropriator and the reservoir, as required by Nevada law.”

Studies have found that the various aquifers involved are already at equilibrium — the amount of water being withdrawn is replaced annually by an equal amount due to rainfall and inflow from other aquifers — and any increased use would threaten agriculture, livestock watering, wildlife and natural springs.

The judge further ruled that the SNWA’s so-called 3M plan to monitor, manage and mitigate the effects of its water use when a trigger level is reached was no plan at all. The judge said “it is not a trigger at all. It is a process, obviously, or even not so obviously, understood by SNWA only. Compare this investigation ‘trigger’ with the trigger used by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in Armagosa Valley. ‘When the water level falls 2.7 feet below a copper washer, mitigation must occur.” (Meaning the Amargosa Valley, of course.)

Estes concluded, “Accordingly, this Court finds that the water appropriations in Spring Valley threaten to prove detrimental to the public interest because the awards, at the current well configuration, result in water mining, will never reach equilibrium, and will result in depletion of the Spring Valley aquifer. The award is inconsistent with Nevada water law … is inconsistent with the State Engineer’s long held rules of water appropriation, and is arbitrary and capricious.”

An appeal of Estes’ ruling does not appear to be imminent. The water agency issued a statement to the press saying, “Since these groundwater applications were filed more than 30 years ago, Southern Nevada has emerged as a world leader in urban water conservation. Through SNWA’s proactive water resource management and the community’s achievements in water efficiency, there is no scenario in our Water Resource Plan where this project would be needed within the next 30 years.”

In 2017 a federal judge even blocked BLM from granting the water authority a right-of-way across federal land for its proposed pipeline, saying the environmental impact assessment was inadequate.

“SNWA has no right-of-way for the pipeline, and no rights to water with which to fill the pipeline,” said Kyle Roerink, GBWN executive director. “This project is dead in the water. It’s time for SNWA to finally move on.”

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: Keep a close eye on enforcement of virus regulations

Shortly after state health officials confirmed the first presumptive case of the coronavirus — dubbed COVID-19 — in Nevada this past week, Gov. Steve Sisolak issued an emergency regulation regarding insurance coverage for testing and treatment of the rapidly spreading virus.

State law gives the governor the power in emergency situations to make, amend and rescind regulations in response to the emergency. Customarily one thinks of such things as calling out the National Guard to prevent looting or other problems after a national disaster.

In this case the Commissioner of Insurance Barbara Richardson made a finding that an emergency affecting the health and safety of the public exists and that adoption of an emergency regulation was appropriate.

What Sisolak did was attempt to avert potential adverse financial impact for those who carry health insurance.

We highly recommend the governor keep a close eye on the effects of his order lest it have unintentional adverse affects on the availability of testing and potential vaccines or treatments for the disease. Dictating the price of things in the marketplace has been known to deter availability of goods and services when adequate compensation is not forthcoming.

There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence over the years that so-called anti-price-gouging laws merely limit the supply of necessary goods and services in a crisis.

For example, according to the American Institute for Economic Research, in 2005 a Kentucky man took time off from his job, bought 19 power generators, rented a truck and drove to hurricane-ravaged Mississippi intending to sell the generators at twice the price he paid to cover his costs and make a profit. Police confiscated his generators for price gouging, held him for four days and kept the generators in police custody. Those who urgently needed them and would have gladly paid the asking price suffered in the dark instead.

“This pre-emptive emergency regulation should give Nevadans confidence to continue taking preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 as well as seeking necessary medical services and prescriptions without fear of higher than normal costs,” Sisolak was quoted as saying in a press release accompanying the emergency declaration. “Protecting Nevadans is my top priority, and adopting this emergency regulation is a critical piece of our broader plan to anticipate and prepare for the potential impacts of COVID-19.”

The press release said the order prohibits a health insurance company from imposing an out-of-pocket charge for an office, urgent care center or emergency room visit for the purpose of testing for the virus. “Additionally, the regulation prohibits insurers from charging Nevadans for the COVID-19 test itself or an immunization as one becomes available and further requires coverage for off-formulary prescription drugs if a formulary drug is not available for treatment,” the press release says.

Sounds confiscatory. If companies are prohibited from recouping their expenses for services provided, how readily available will those services be?

The regulation further requires health insurance companies to pro-actively provide information on available benefits, options for medical advice and treatment through telehealth systems and ways to prevent exposure to the virus.

With only a few cases in Nevada so far such measures may be premature. There have been no reports of insurance price gouging due to the virus that we are aware of, which is what the governor’s emergency order appears to be intended to stave off.

We suggested the commissioner of insurance and health officials keep a close watch on events as they develop to assure these shackles on the free market do not interrupt the availability of necessary services and thus create the opposite effect of what the governor intends.

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.

Gov. Steve Sisolak announces emergency regulations. (R-J pix)

Newspaper column: Courts can’t tell lawmakers to hike education funding

An education advocacy group has filed suit on behalf of nine parents of Nevada public school children demanding that the courts force lawmakers to adequately fund K-12 education — declaring that the students “inhabit one of the lowest-rated and worst-performing state school systems in the United States.”

The suit, filed in the 1st Judicial District Court in Carson City, by Educate Nevada Now asks the court to find that the level of funding of public education in the state has fallen short of the constitutional requirement to “ensure a basic, uniform, and sufficient education for the schoolchildren of this state.”

The 37-page lawsuit cites a litany of woes — including the fact Nevada ranked 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in Education Week’s most recent Quality Counts report’s Chance-for-Success Index and has the third largest class sizes and ranked first in the U.S. in class size growth according to the National Education Association.

The suit further noted that in the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) only 34 percent of Nevada fourth graders were proficient in math and only 31 percent were proficient in reading. Both rates were even lower for eighth graders.

Nevada holds “places near the top of every ‘bad’ list, and the bottom of every ‘good’ list, in myriad rankings of public schools systems and student performance across the country,” the suit states.

The Nevada Supreme Court in the case of Guinn v. Legislature in 2003 held that Nevada students have a basic right to a public education under the state constitution, the suit states. In that case the court decided education funding had to take precedent over a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

Justice Bill Maupin was the only dissenting vote in the case, citing separation of powers, “Again, we are powerless to order co-equal branches of government to exercise individual acts of constitutional discretion. Our authority depends upon whether extraordinary relief is warranted and in exercising our authority to grant relief, we would be restricted to an interpretation of the Constitution, utilizing recognized tenets of statutory construction.”

The current lawsuit neglects to point out that the justices three years later overturned Guinn v. Legislature, largely for the very reason cited by Maupin.

The Educate Nevada Now suit further quotes the state constitution, which says, “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district […].” 
The quote is cut off before the part that says such schools must be open “at least six months in every year …”

The suit further notes that the constitution states that the Legislature shall appropriate education funds “the Legislature deems sufficient …” That would seem to dictate that lawmakers are to determine what is “sufficient” rather than
the courts.

The litigation comes despite the fact Nevada lawmakers in 2015 passed the largest tax hike in history, $1.5 billion, largely to fund education, and lawmakers this year approved 3 percent raises for teachers. It also comes while the Clark County teachers union is preparing to circulate petitions seeking to increase sales and gaming taxes by $1.4 billion a year.

The problem with Nevada public education is not so much a lack of funding as it is a deficiency in accountability.

At one time Nevada high school students were required to pass a proficiency exam in order to graduate. That was dropped in 2018.

With the 2015 tax hike came a requirement that third graders who could not read at a certain proficiency level would be held back to repeat the third grade. That has since been dropped.

At one point 50 percent of teacher evaluations were based on pupil achievement growth. That has been cut to 15 percent.

Amanda Morgan, an attorney for Educate Nevada Now, told the Las Vegas newspaper after the suit was filed that the intent of the litigation is to prod lawmakers into addressing education funding.

“The court won’t say you need to put x amount of dollars into education,” Morgan was quoted as saying. “But it will say, ‘What you’re doing right now doesn’t meet your constitutional obligation. Go fix it.’”

The constitution seems clear when it says education funding is whatever “the Legislature deems sufficient …”

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: Federal bill would negate right-to-work laws

A month ago the U.S. House passed on a near party line vote of 224-194 a bill dubbed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. Among other things the bill would nullify state right-to-work laws, such as Nevada’s 66-year-old right-to-work law and those of 26 other states. Workers would be forced to pay union dues in order to keep their jobs.

All three of Nevada’s Democratic representatives — Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee — voted for the bill. Titus and Horsford were co-sponsors. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted against it.

The chances of the bill passing the Senate this year are nugatory, but if Democrats retake a majority of the Senate in November its chances are much more likely.

Nevada’s right-to-work law specifically states, “No person shall be denied the opportunity to obtain or retain employment because of nonmembership in a labor organization, nor shall the State, or any subdivision thereof or any corporation, individual or association of any kind enter into any agreement, written or oral, which excludes any person from employment or continuation of employment because of nonmembership in a labor organization.”

In addition to killing such right-to-work laws the PRO Act dramatically tilts the playing field in favor of union bosses at the expense of employers and employees. For example, it would adopt a California law that forces many independent contractors to be covered by rules requiring overtime, meal breaks, leave time, workers compensation and unemployment benefits among other things.

It also would weaken workers’ basic right to a secret collective bargaining ballot instead of coercive card checks.

Union contracts could also be imposed via arbitration.

The PRO Act would ban employers from permanently replacing striking workers.

The National Law Review said of the legislation, “In all, the PRO Act would introduce a great deal of potentially harmful changes to the labor law landscape that may negatively affect American businesses and their employees. The bill seeks to institute increasingly complex legal strictures when labor law is already profoundly complicated and confusing. Instead of simplifying matters or assisting companies and unions in facilitating their businesses, the act would create a tangled web of regulations that would benefit organized labor at the expense of both employers and employees. Political prospects for the bill are dim in the U.S. Senate, but the PRO Act will now be the baseline for labor reform proponents should political winds blow differently in the future.”

This past September, Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Right to Work Committee, wrote an op-ed for the Las Vegas newspaper explaining the economic impact of Nevada’s right-to-work law.

“Business owners correctly view states that have passed right-to-work laws as being more welcoming and business-friendly than high-tax, forced-dues states such as California,” Mix wrote. “That is why federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that from 2013-18, factory employment growth in Nevada was more than three times greater than in Western forced-union states such as Colorado, Oregon and Montana.”

Mix further noted that in the past decade total employment for right-to-work states grew twice as much as it did in forced-unionism states.

Keep this in mind as you go to vote this fall. Your job may depend on it.

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: Could a socialist be the Democratic presidential nominee?

To their eternal ignominy Nevada Democratic caucus voters have helped jump start the presidential candidacy of self-identified democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders, a man who could not have voted for himself if he lived here because he is not a registered Democrat.

The Vermont independent senator won 47 percent of the state’s equivalent delegates, picking up strong pluralities in 10 counties, a 78 percent majority in Eureka and a 58 percent majority in Esmeralda. Tom Steyer won Mineral, while Pete Buttigieg took Douglas, Lincoln, Nye and Pershing. Steyer and Buttigieg both dropped out after poor showings in South Carolina this past weekend.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who won handily in South Carolina, finished second in Nevada overall.

With Super Tuesday this week there were 1,344 delegates at stake in 14 states — 415 in California alone — on the way to the 1,991 needed to win the Democratic nomination outright. Biden now leads Sanders by 75 delegates.

Sanders on the stump has been making a whole host of mostly socialistic promises — Medicare for All, free college, Green New Deal, open borders, workplace democracy, housing for all, expanded Social Security, free child care and pre-kindergarten, justice and safety for all, teacher raises, forgiving medical debt, fair banking, jobs for all, women’s rights, racial justice, gun safety, rights for the disabled, rights for all forms of gender identity, revitalizing rural areas, getting corporate money out of politics, corporate accountability, legal pot, fair trade.

In a recent op-ed in the Las Vegas newspaper Sanders even promised: “Together, we will make sure that no child in Nevada goes hungry. Hundreds of thousands of Nevada school children are in need of school lunches. Instead of saddling families with debt and stigma, we will fund universal school meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

In Bernie’s brave new world, as in Aldous Huxley’s, “parent” is a dirty word. The state will take care of everything and everyone will be just a cog in the socialist machine.

To pay for it all, he’ll just tax the rich, like in that old rock tune “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After: “Tax the rich, feed the poor/ ‘Til there are no rich no more.” What will he do when he runs out of rich people?

Sanders is reportedly especially embraced by so-called millennials who apparently have no concept of the price of socialism as recorded repeatedly in history — the re-education camps, the gulags, the purges, the lack of free speech or press, the lack of private property — such as the millennials’ beloved cellphones.

According to a recent Heritage Foundation article, a YouGov survey reported that 44 percent of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 would prefer to live in a socialist nation rather than a capitalist country.

“Another seven percent would choose communism. However, the same poll revealed that only 33 percent of the respondents could correctly define socialism as based on the common ownership of economic and social systems as well as the state control of the means of production,” the article states. “What most millennials mean by ‘socialism’ seems to be a mix of our welfare state and what they perceive to be Swedish democratic socialism. But Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries including Denmark favor the free market and are content with private rather than government ownership of their major industries. However, Danish domestic spending including comprehensive health care has a high price — a top personal income tax of 57 percent.”

Sanders himself has taken recently to apologizing for the excesses of socialist regimes by trying to point to some positives.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in a recent interview. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

They might be able to read, but just ask the throngs of Cuban expatriates in Florida what they were allowed to read.

How many Sanders supporters have any inkling of the carnage due to socialism? According to “The Black Book of Communism,” published by Harvard University Press, the total deaths due to socialist dictators from Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to Castro and others is 100 million. Still want socialism?

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: Federal spending by both parties must be reined in

There is always one issue on which both parties in Washington never fail to agree — more and more spending.

President Trump’s proposed 2021 fiscal year budget of $4.8 trillion includes a deficit of $1 trillion dollars, almost double the deficit for the Obama administration’s final year in office, but the squawking isn’t about the deficit and the mounting national debt. It is that there is not enough spending. 

While the Nevada delegation was largely pleased with the fact the proposed budget doesn’t include spending to license Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump for a change, but rather includes $27.5 million for “exploring innovative approaches for storing long-term waste,” our Democratic delegates complained about spending “cuts.”

Of course, there is the possibility that those innovative approaches might not be as good as arid, isolated Yucca Mountain in a county hungry for well paying jobs.

According to the Las Vegas newspaper, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Nevada’s Democratic senior Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto “grilled” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on proposed budget cuts of nearly $200 million for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that’s food stamps, and reductions of $90 million in Social Security programs. Mnuchin replied that those were not cuts at all but rather decreases in the projected increases in spending. 

Sen. Jacky Rosen and Reps. Dina Titus and Susie Lee, all Democrats, complained of less funding for education and environmental programs.

During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, again according to the Las Vegas newspaper, Democratic 4th Congressional District Rep. Steven Horsford accused the Trump administration of using the social program cuts to offset $1.9 trillion in tax cuts pushed through by Republicans earlier.

“Sweeping money from the children of Nevada to balance your budget on the backs of working Americans after giving a tax cut to the very wealthy and big corporations is not going to happen,” Horsford was quoted as saying.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, revenues have continued to rise “despite” the tax cut. Or perhaps a more robust economy is generating more tax revenue “because” of the tax cuts. 

“Revenues are expected to be 16.7% of GDP, not far off the 17.2% before the tax cut,” the Journal editorial points out. “The problem is that outlays are rising faster — to 21.6% of GDP this fiscal year, the most since 2012 and well above the Bush and late Clinton years.” It’s the spending.

The Trump budget proposal also makes some rosy and unlikely assumptions. In another article, Wall Street Journal columnists note that the 10-year forecast in the Trump budget projects $50.7 trillion in federal revenue, which is 7 percent more than the Congressional Budget Office forecast, which assumes the 2017 tax cuts will expire as scheduled in 2025. Trump’s budget assumes the tax cuts will be extended. Not likely if the Democrats continue to hold the House.

Meanwhile, a New York Times writer also raises questions about the Trump budget’s overly optimistic forecasts for economic growth, pointing out that the Trump budget foresees the total national debt declining from the current 79 percent of the overall economy to 66 percent in 2030. The Congressional Budget Office sees it rising to 98 percent, a level not reached since 1946, the end of World War II. 

It is time to rein in the spending and sending the bill to the next generation, which might have to default. 

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 state and local taxes already too regressive

In this presidential election year there has been an ongoing and vigorous debate, nay, a knock-down-drag-out fight over the question of whether the wealthy pay their fair share of federal taxes. There is ample ammo for both sides of that argument.

But when it comes to state and local taxes there is no debate. The tax data from nearly every state shows those tax practices are highly regressive, meaning the poorer citizens pay a disproportionately higher share of their income in state and local taxes than wealthier citizens, which is simply unfair.

This was detailed by an October 2018 analysis by the Washington-based Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. The study found that on average nationally the lowest-income 20 percent of taxpayers face a state and local tax rate more than 50 percent higher than the top 1 percent of households. The nationwide average effective state and local tax rate is 11.4 percent for the lowest-income 20 percent of individuals and families, 9.9 percent for the middle 20 percent and 7.4 percent for the top 1 percent. 

The institute concludes, “Most state and local tax systems worsen income inequality by making incomes more unequal after collecting state and local taxes.”

The study found that Nevada was the fifth worst state in the nation for taxation inequity. The effective tax rate for the poorest 20 percent of Nevadans was 10.2 percent. For the middle 60 percent the rate was 7.4 percent. For the top 1 percent the rate was a paltry 1.9 percent — the lowest tax rate in the nation for that earnings group. This inequity is due to reliance on sales and excise taxes, because poorer families must spend a higher portion of their income on taxed necessities. 

Of course, when the Clark County teachers union earlier this year launched two tax hiking ballot initiatives to increase funding for education the biggest was a proposal to hike the sales tax by $1.1 billion a year. The other was to hike the gaming tax to raise $330 million a year.

The sales tax initiative would increase the Local School Support Tax — a part of the statewide sales tax — from 2.6 percent to 4.1 percent, a 58 percent increase. If the union gathers enough petition signatures it would go before the Legislature in the spring of 2021, tax loving Democrats already hold a supermajority in the Assembly and are one shy of a supermajority in the state Senate. Thus this November’s General Election is significant at the state level, too. If lawmakers fail to impose the taxes, they would go before the voters on the November 2022 ballot. 

If passed, in Clark and Lincoln counties the overall sales tax would jump from 8.375 percent to 9.875 percent, among the highest rates in the country. In Mineral, Eureka and Esmeralda counties, which have the lowest current sales tax rates in the state, the tax would jump from 6.85 percent to 8.35 percent.

The impact on poorer families would be devastating. 

Earlier this month the board of directors of the Nevada Taxpayers Association (NTA) announced its opposition to both the sales and gaming tax propositions, saying such a drastic change in the taxation policy should be thoroughly debated by all stakeholders and that should be conducted via the standard legislative process, not through a ballot initiative.

“An increase of $1 billion in annual sales tax revenue is likely to affect tax neutrality and change consumer behavior,” the NTA said in a press release. “The exporting of the tax burden to non-residents is also of concern given the importance of tourists to our statewide economy. As with the Sales Tax, an annual increase in the Gross Gaming Tax of $330 million is very likely to cause unpredictable economic consequences. The focus of this tax on one industry is prone to have a harmful effect on gaming companies and their employees.” 

The NTA also pointed out that the two tax hikes would represent an annual increase of 28 percent in taxation, but the propositions contain no performance benchmarks that would assure taxpayers get a return on their investment.

In fact, most of the performance benchmarks enacted when lawmakers in 2015 approved a $1.5 billion tax hike targeted to improve education have been rescinded. No longer are third graders who can’t read required to be held back a year, and while student achievement was once 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation that has been cut to 15 percent.

These tax proposals will hurt poor families without ensuring education improvements. 

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: Steyer ups ante in bidding war for votes

All of the candidates still seeking the Democratic presidential nomination have at one time or the other advocated doubling the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Recently billionaire businessman Tom Steyer upped the ante in his vote buying scheme by calling for tripling the minimum wage to $22 an hour.

As The Wall Street Journal editorialists point out, this is not a serious campaign ploy. It is the punchline of a Republican joke. “When liberals call for a nationwide $15 minimum wage, conservatives often offer a half-serious rhetorical response: Why stop there?” the editorial recounts, adding that Steyer doesn’t get the joke.

Tom Steyer illustration

At a campaign stop in South Carolina Steyer told his audience, “The fair number should be $22 an hour. That should be the minimum wage in the United States of America: $22. Think about what this country would be like if we had a $22 minimum wage: completely different.”

Yes, think about the number of people who would be unemployed. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, though a number of states and cities have raised their minimum wages, with often counterproductive results. One study found the average low-wage worker in Seattle lost $125 a month because the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour and hours were cut.

This past year the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that somewhere between 1.3 million and 3.7 million would lose their jobs if the minimum wage were raised to $15 an hour. What would that number be at $22? How many businesses would be bankrupted by such a wage hike?

A Cato Institute analysis in 2012 found that a 10 percent increase in the U.S. minimum wage raises food prices by up to 4 percent. Image what a 200 percent increase would do.

The problem is that study after study has found that raising the minimum wage does not lift more people out of poverty, but rather its net effect is to actually increase the portion of families that are poor and near-poor, according to an analysis of those studies by the Heritage Foundation. This is because a few will see higher income, others will have their work hours reduced and some will drop from minimum wage to zero wage due to layoffs and businesses closing their doors.

But all the Democratic candidates are on board for raising the minimum wage.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has called for $15 an hour and indexing to the median hourly wage so low-wage workers keep up with middle-income workers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “A job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it,” calling $7.25 a starvation wage.

Pete Buttigieg could also phase out the subminimum for tipped workers.

Warren also would index the minimum wage to median hourly wages.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar would start in her first 100 days in office by raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour.

Mike Bloomberg would hike the minimum wage and index it to inflation.

They are all in the same choir. Just one is singing much more loudly than the others.

As Thomas Sowell points out in his book “Basic Economics,” “Making it illegal to pay less than a given amount does not make a worker’s productivity worth that amount — and, if it is not, that worker is unlikely to be employed. Yet minimum wage laws are almost always discussed politically in terms of the benefits they confer on workers receiving those wages. Unfortunately, the real minimum wage is always zero, regardless of the laws, and that is the wage that many workers receive in the wake of the creation or escalation of a government-mandated minimum wage, because they either lose their jobs or fail to find jobs when they enter the labor force.”

Nevada’s Democratic caucus is Saturday. It doesn’t look like Democratic voters have much choice on this issue.

Now that Nevada has election day voter registration, we wonder how many Republicans might switch over just to keep this bidding war alive. Not suggesting it, of course.

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: Democratic candidates could hurt rural health care

As Democratic presidential candidates sweep across the state in advance of Saturday’s caucus rural voters should pay close attention — as if your life depends on it, because it does — to what they say about their plans for changing how Americans pay for health care.

Two of them — Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — are advocating what has been dubbed “Medicare for All,” which would basically outlaw private health insurance, such as that offered by employers and unions, and replace it with a taxpayer-funded single payer plan.

The rest have called for creation of a public option that would compete with private insurers and saddle taxpayers with the cost.

One problem is that Medicare reimbursements are estimated to be on average 40 percent less than private insurance. According to a New York Times article from a year ago, Medicare typically pays a hospital $17,000 for a knee replacement, while the same hospital would get about $37,000 for the same surgery on a patient with private insurance. Also, a hospital could get about $4,200 from Medicare for removing a gallbladder, but $7,400 from a private insurer.

This has been exacerbated by Medicare’s method of reimbursement, which is based on wage indexing.

In November the administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wrote that, for example, prior to some adjustments this fiscal year, a hospital in a low-wage rural community could receive a Medicare payment of about $4,000 for treating pneumonia, while a hospital in a high-wage urban area could receive a Medicare payment of nearly $6,000 for the same case.

Because of such payments schedules and other factors, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, 166 rural hospitals have closed since 2005, including in 2015 the Nye Regional Medical Center in Tonopah. That closure left residents 100 miles from the nearest hospital and 200 miles from the nearest level one trauma center, though some local clinics now provide some urgent care. Four rural hospitals have closed so far this year.

The Medicare administrator noted that nearly 60 million rural Americans — often living in areas with higher rates of poverty and having difficulty traveling long distances to a hospital or doctor’s office — face higher risks. Recent Centers for Disease Control data found 57 percent of deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease in rural areas were preventable, compared with only 13 percent preventable deaths for people with the same condition in urban areas.

A study this past August for the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future conducted by Navigant Consulting looked at what the impact on rural health care might be at different levels of federal takeover of health care reimbursements.

Under the least intrusive option in which everyone covered by an employer-based insurance program kept that plan while others were swept into the public option, the study estimated that 28 percent of rural hospitals would be at high risk of closure, including three in Nevada.

Under the Medicare for All option, the study estimated that 55 percent of rural hospitals or more than 1,000 could be at high risk for closure, including eight in Nevada.

Even Sen. Warren has recognized that the plan she and Sanders have been backing could have an adverse impact on rural hospitals. A posting on her campaign website says, “Medicare for All will mean access to primary care and lower health costs for patients — and less uncompensated care for rural hospitals, helping them stay afloat. Elizabeth will create a new Medicare designation for rural hospitals that reimburses them at a higher rate and offers flexibility of services to meet the needs of their communities. Elizabeth will also strengthen antitrust protections to fight hospital mergers that increase costs, lower quality, and close rural facilities.”

How it will be paid for is not mentioned.

For his part Sanders blithely states online, “Rural people in particular have suffered the negative consequences that result from a lack of access to affordable, quality health care. Access to health care is a top issue for farmers and have some of the highest uninsured rate, in fact 41% of dairy farmers lack health insurance. With Medicare-for-All, small business owners, including farmers, will no longer have to worry about providing health care to their families or employees.”

Who will worry about paying for it?

According to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada already ranks 45th in the nation for active physicians per 100,000 population, 48th for primary care physicians and 50th for general surgeons.

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.

Ramirez cartoon

Editorial: Courts should overturn ‘Red Flag’ law

A number of Nevada counties have passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions in response to state lawmakers passing a “Red Flag” law in 2019 that would allow persons accused of being a potential danger to themselves or others to have their firearms confiscated by order of a judge.

But rather than threatening to flout the law, the better route is the one taken by Elko County commissioners recently and that is to challenge the law in the courts. The commissioners voted to join a lawsuit filed in December by attorneys for NevadansCAN (Citizens Action Network) that argues the “Red Flag” section of Assembly Bill 291, which was passed on a near party-line vote with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, is unconstitutional because it violates the right to due process and the right to keep and bear arms — as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Nevada Constitution, which states, “Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms for security and defense …”

According to the Elko Daily Free Press, at the start of the meeting Elko County Sheriff Aitor Narvaiza declared, “On Jan. 7, 2019, I was elected sheriff of Elko County. I took an oath to protect the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Nevada. I’m here to tell the lawmakers to keep your hands off our guns.”

He was quoted as saying, “Let’s enforce the laws that we have which are reasonable instead of enacting more laws which are unconstitutional. … A great president once said this country cannot be defeated in combat, but it can be defeated within. Right now this country is crumbling, slowly, due to weak-minded politicians and lawmakers who push unconstitutional laws for personal gains and to fill their pockets.”

He received several rounds of applause the newspaper reported.

The litigation appears to have sound legal footing due to a recent unanimous Nevada Supreme Court ruling. The court found that gun ownership is such a fundamental right that it cannot be taken away merely by a judge’s ruling, opining that a person charged with misdemeanor domestic battery is entitled to a trial by jury, because the state Legislature in 2017 enacted a law saying someone convicted of such a crime could have their right to keep and bear arms denied.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that only those persons charged with a “serious” crime are entitled to a jury trial. The unanimous Nevada opinion written by Justice Lidia Stiglich states the change in state law to prohibit firearms possession by someone convicted of domestic violence effectively increases the “penalty” and makes the crime “serious” rather than “petty.”

“In our opinion, this new penalty — a prohibition on the right to bear arms as guaranteed by both the United States and Nevada Constitutions — ‘clearly reflect[s] a legislative determination that the offense [of misdemeanor domestic battery] is a serious one,’” Stiglich wrote in a case out of Las Vegas.

The NevadansCAN lawsuit declares, “This (“Red Flag”) law makes mincemeat of the due process of law, will endanger law enforcement and the public, and is a tool for stalkers and abusers to disarm innocent victims. Empirical data is available that nearly a third of such orders are improperly issued against innocent people, in states with experience of the operation of such a law.”

Proponents of such laws often cite the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting that left 58 country music concert goers dead in Law Vegas as justification, but neither this “Red Flag” law nor the recently enacted tougher background check law would have prevented that tragedy.

AB291 defies the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures, the Fifth Amendment right to not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law and the 14th Amendment prohibition against states abridging the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizens.

It must be overturned and litigation is the proper route to do so.

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.