Reid unapologetic about violating ethics rules to help Las Vegas company

Being Harry Reid means never having to say you are sorry.

Reid not only is calling the whistleblowers who complained to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security about his meddling in decisions about whether to expedite visas to foreign investors in a Las Vegas hotel casino whiners but bragged that he would do it all over again.

“One of the problems we have with government … is people take too long to make decisions,” Reid is quoted as saying.

Harry Reid (Screen grab from YouTube)

In this case, the decision had been made, and it was: No, the visas would not be expedited and the urgency was one created by the hotel-casino, not by the government, according to the IG report. The Washington Times reported at the time that Homeland Security had denied visas for some of those investors from Asia because of “suspicious financial activity.” That decision was ineligible for appeal.

Reid personally called Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of immigration services at the time, and demanded the visas be expedited and that his staff be given a weekly update. Mayorkas did so. He since has been promoted to the No. 2 post at Homeland Security, even though his nomination did not get the 60 votes that would have been needed before Harry nuked the filibuster.

Reid neglects to mention that at the time of his intersession his son Rory’s law firm was representing the company in question SLS, formerly the Sahara.

Cause of Action filed an ethics complaint against Reid mentioning this minor fact.

“Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Senator Reid’s efforts to lobby USCIS resulted in the reconsideration and approval of those applications …” the complaint says, adding that the recipients of the investments were major contributors to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. “Even more troublesome is the fact that Senator Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins P.C., are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel and Casino.”

Cause of Action points out that the U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct permits members to assist people with executive branch agencies, but it also says:

“The decision to provide assistance to petitioners may not be made on the basis of contributions or services, or promises of contributions or services, to the Member’s political campaigns or to other organizations in which the Member has a political, personal, or financial interest.”

Federal Election Commission records show executives for two companies involved in the hotel project had made $127,000 in political donations over the previous three elections, mostly to Democrats.

Will Republican lawmakers ridicule this budget proposal, too?

When Dan Schwartz had the temerity to suggest the state would not sink into chaos if its general fund budget was increased by merely 4.6 percent instead of the governor’s proposed 12.3 percent, he was ridiculed and shouted at. Not enough detail he was told.

Now Assembly Majority Whip Jim Wheeler, state Controller Ron Knecht and a few other conservative Republicans have presented their “Balanced Plan for Growth: A Budget for the New Nevada,” an alternative to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.3 billion increase in general fund spending and taxes.

Knecht said the plan spends almost all of what Sandoval wants on education, but eliminates the need for the business license fee/margin tax and allows “sunset” taxes to actually sunset.

The plan still calls for spending $6.92 billion, which is more than the $6.3 billion that the Economic Forum forecast will be available to spend under current tax law.

Wheeler and Knecht explain how their budget reaches some of that extra spending:

“Holds employer contributions to employee pensions constant at current rates and requires all employees to contribute to their own retirements.It redirects $334 million in projected savings from this measure as a revenue source for public education.”

Additional savings, they save, comes from funding education programs through block grants instead of usual appropriations.

“The Plan is our attempt to move the process forward and avoid a Legislative stalemate by providing a work-in-progress budget between current spending and the Governor’s proposed budget,” said Knecht in a press release.  “Our proposal is not the final word, but instead a constructive Plan that is conciliatory and fully respectful of the roles of the Governor and the Legislature.”

Budget Plan for Growth press release

Balanced Plan for Growth Budget details

bjt plan

Spending plan from Wheeler and Knecht continues from one page the next

bjt spending 1

bjt spending 2

Many of the line items are the same as the governor’s. One notable exception is the GOED — Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

How can Nevada take control of more federal land?

How will lawmakers in Carson City decide to grab federal land for the state?

How will lawmakers in Carson City decide to grab federal land for the state?

There are two pieces of legislation pending in Carson City whose intention is allow the state to take control of at least some of the federal land that constitute about 87 percent of the land inside the state boundaries.

Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 the culmination of years of planning and calculating that really dates back to the Sagebrush Rebellion days.

It’s label reads: “Urging Congress to enact legislation transferring title to certain public lands to the State of Nevada in accordance with the report prepared by the Nevada Land Management Task Force.”

Michele Fiore, sponsor of AB408

That task force estimates the state could generate far more revenue from control of the public land the paltry sums doled out be Washington in the form of pay in lieu of taxes.

SJR1 calls for the state over the next decade taking control of 7.2 million acres of the 48 million acres the feds now control.

But slated for a hearing by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining Tuesday afternoon is a more brazen attempt to grab federal lands, Assembly Bill 408, whose chief sponsor is Assembly member Michele Fiore.

The label on this bill reads:

“AN ACT relating to public lands; prohibiting the Federal Government from owning or regulating certain public lands or the right to use public waters; requiring the State Land Registrar to adopt regulations that provide for the appropriation and registration of grazing, logging, mineral development or other beneficial use rights on public lands; requiring the State Land Registrar to sell permits for grazing, logging, mineral development or other beneficial uses on public lands for which such rights are not registered and appropriated; requiring the board of county commissioners of each county to impose a tax on profits from the beneficial use of public lands; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”

Considering how the courts have traditionally given deference to the supremacy of the federal government rather that the 10th Amendment states’ rights, the bill is viewed by many as a futile gesture.

This is the case, even though the Constitution says Congress only has the power: “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …”

But a number of lawmakers, including a few of its sponsors, are also questioning some of the details in bill, fearing the language could jeopardize long held water and grazing rights.

It is that phrasing about beneficial use that concerns people. Could a failure to graze a given tract during a drought constitute giving up a grazing right, since it was not put to beneficial use? What about competing uses for the same tract of land?

The bill’s language includes: “Provide for the appropriation of grazing, logging, mineral development or other beneficial use rights on public lands: (a) To the first person who used the land for which the rights are claimed and who continues to use the land for that purpose; or (b) If the land for which the rights are claimed has not been used in the manner for which the rights are claimed, to the first person who claims the rights. 2. Establish procedures by which claims to such rights may be registered with the State Land Registrar. Each right must be identified by priority date, the manner in which the land is being used, the geographic boundaries of the land being used and the person who claims the right.”

The devil may be in the details.



Texas bill would truly create school choice, perhaps Nevada should try it

If Gov. Brian Sandoval likes the way they do things in Texas — why else would he propose a business license tax based on gross receipts, a margin tax, just months after the voters rejected the concept at the polls and while Texans are trying to repeal their margin tax? — perhaps he’ll embrace a bill pending before Texas lawmakers to make school choice a practical and financially feasible reality.

At a Dallas elementary school (AP photo via WSJ)

Senate Bill 276 would give any parent who opts to send a child to a private school, any private school, up to 60 percent of what the state would spend to educate that child in a public school — currently about $5,200.

According to the Texas Tribune, the bill would not require private schools to be accredited or follow any curriculum standards. It would be solely the responsibility of parents. Unlike most of Sandoval’s plans the Texas bill would not limit eligibility to low-income families.

The bill states: “A parent or legal guardian of an eligible student who agrees to accept reimbursement in an amount that is less than the state average maintenance and operations expenditures per student may receive reimbursement from the state for the tuition paid for the enrollment of the eligible student at a private school in an amount that is the lesser of: (1) the tuition paid; or (2) 60 percent of the state average maintenance and operations expenditures per student.”

The writers of a Wall Street Journal op-ed observed: “This year, lawmakers should seize the opportunity to leapfrog other states by enacting universal educational freedom, putting Texas in a position of leadership. Texas is a bellwether — it is, as the saying goes, where the future comes to be born. If it can succeed in giving all parents the freedom to choose what’s best for their children, then reformers may be able to do the same elsewhere.”

Like Nevada?

Don’t expect Obama’s Justice Department to prosecute either Hillary or Harry

Hillary Clinton (Reuters photo via WSJ)

So, Hillary Clinton has wiped clean her email server that she used while serving as secretary of state.

“We learned today, from her attorney, Secretary Clinton unilaterally decided to wipe her server clean and permanently delete all emails from her personal server,” said House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy on Friday.

Will the Justice Department take any notice of this? Ronald Rotunda, a professor at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, explained recently in The Wall Street Journal why it should:

The law says that no one has to use email, but it is a crime (18 U.S.C. section 1519) to destroy even one message to prevent it from being subpoenaed. Prosecutors charging someone with obstruction don’t even have to establish that any investigation was pending or under way when the deletion took place. As T. Markus Funk explained in a journal article for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the prosecutor “need only prove that the defendant shredded the documents, at least in part, to make life more difficult for future investigators, if and when they eventually appear.”

Legal commentators call this “anticipatory obstruction of justice,” and the law punishes it with up to 20 years imprisonment. The burden of proof is light. The Justice Department manual advises that section 1519 makes prosecution much easier because it covers “any matters” or “’in relation to or contemplation of’ any matters.” It adds, “No corrupt persuasion is required.”

Will Justice take any heed of recommendations for the prosecution of Harry Reid, as called for by former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova and Cause of Action?

Here is an excerpt from Brietbart News:

“Here’s the issue,” diGenova tells Breitbart News in an exclusive interview. “Because his son was involved representing the SLS Casino and Hotel that sought the expedited EB-5 visa processing from the Department of Homeland Security, and because Harry Reid intervened personally, there is obviously the appearance of impropriety here.”

“The Senate Ethics Committee, if it examines this independently, would see this as an instance of Reid ‘bringing reproach upon the Senate.’”

“But there is also the issue of criminal conduct. This requires further investigation,” diGenova says.

“There is no doubt in my mind,” diGenova continues, “that an independent Department of Justice or an independent U.S. Attorney would open a preliminary criminal investigation into Harry Reid’s intervention into the expediting of EB-5 visas and would in addition convene a grand jury.”

“I would open a grand jury on this in a New York minute,” diGenova says.

Don’t hold your breath. This is Obama’s Justice Department. The name itself is an oxymoron.

Harry Reid (Screen grab from video on YouTube)

Pathetic Sun embarrasses its reporters by printing eclipsed ‘news’ stories

Sometimes you have to feel sorry for Sun reporters.

Today the only local story on the cover of the Sun section is a piece about the only man on a 25-member economic development agency board to vote against Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tax increases. The print version tells us the tale was posted online Thursday, while the online version says it was post at 2 a.m. Thursday.

The gentleman in question was especially critical of the governor’s business license fee proposal that taxes businesses based on their gross receipts, comparing it to the failed margin tax on the November ballot and saying something about lipstick on a pig.

The penultimate paragraph of the piece helpfully informs the reader that the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce has hired a high-end think tank to study “viable alternatives to reform the state’s tax structure.”

The problem is that the Chamber’s think tank came out with a study blasting the governor’s business license fee on Thursday and the governor immediately launched an ad hominem attack on the study and the Chamber.

But the poor reporter’s story in print talks about things that are going to happen, though they already have.

Additionally, the Sun has a brief story online about how the Sun’s patron saint Harry Reid has announced he will not seek re-election. The story was posted nearly 21 hours after the announcement, but there is nothing in the print edition.

They are not even phoning it in any more. How embarrassing. What do you call newspaper that doesn’t print news? The Sun?

Sun's story eclipsed by events before it is printed.

Sun’s story eclipsed by events before it is printed.


Newspaper column: Former Gov. Miller touts his failed education spending to promote Sandoval’s plan

This past week Gov. Brian Sandoval presented his proposed business license tax based on gross receipts in the form of Senate Bill 252 to a joint meeting of the state Senate and Assembly taxation committees. He insisted his proposal is not like the margin tax soundly defeated by the voters in November.

“The business license fee (BLF) as proposed is broad based because it will apply to all Nevada businesses,” Sandoval said. “The BLF is fair … It also differentiates between business types. Businesses have different costs of labor and goods and the BLF recognizes that. Construction is not the same as a retailer and a retailer is not the same as a resort hotel.”

Former Gov. Bob Miller testifies for raising taxes to support public education.

The margin tax pushed by The Nevada State Education Association would have imposed a 2 percent tax on the gross receipts of all Nevada businesses that gross more than $1 million a year, regardless of profitability.

Sandoval’s plan doubles the business license fee on all businesses from $200 to $400 and also imposes a tax on gross receipts. SB252 is a 130-page behemoth with 27 separate tax tables for different industries. For some industries the tax kicks in at about $125,000 a year and for others it doesn’t apply until nearly $200,000 a year. The tax rates vary from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation.

The margin tax was estimated to hit private industry with $800 million a year in taxes, while Sandoval has said his tax will rake in $250 million. The lowest tax would be $400 and the highest would be $4 million.

For all its flaws, the margin tax was uniform. Sandoval’s is a contortion. Those 27 different tax tables arguably defy the state constitutional mandate that: “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …”

To help sell his tax hike, Sandoval dragged before the tax panels former Gov. Bob Miller as a living, breathing illustration of just how ineffective his plan to spend more money on education will be.

Miller pushed for and the 1989 Legislature approved a class-size reduction in grades first through third.

“I along with many people in this room have been fighting to modernize our education system through both reforms and the creation of a stable broad-based funding source, and this session is the best opportunity we will likely ever have to reach this goal,” Miller testified. “In the 1990s our focus, mine and the Legislature, was on class-size reduction and early childhood programs … but here we are today, and as most of you know, the statistics are depressing about our state’s education system.”

He went on to cite the facts that students are reading below grade level and 30 percent aren’t graduating from high school.

Since 1990 the state has spent close to $2.5 billion on Miller’s class-size reduction — which like Sandoval’s plans for all-day kindergarten, early childhood education and various special million-dollar programs seemed a no-brainer at the time — but the results have been nil. In fact, in some cases the results have run counter to what was expected.

A 2001 report by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau found that, while principals, teachers, and parents were very positive in their attitudes toward class-size reduction, achievement data did not produce results. Students in larger classes outperformed those in the smaller classes.

Twenty-five years and billions of dollars later Miller is back and saying the system is broken and we need to spend billions of dollars more on special programs, largely the same as he did years ago. Why should we believe him again?

Two ideas Sandoval has put forward, but without much specificity, might improve things: stop promoting third graders who cannot read and provide incentive pay to teachers whose students show improvement on assessment tests. Neither requires tax hikes.

The Nevada Registered Agent Association commissioned a study of SB252 that estimated its enactment would cut new business filings in Nevada by approximately 44 percent in fiscal year 2016 and 63 percent in FY 2017. The study also estimated that the proposal overstates its revenue projections by approximately $42 million in FY 2016 and by about $65 million for FY 2017. NRAA Study

How long will it be before the the business license tax is increased? Better yet, how long will it be before we see improvements in education?

According to the Cato Institute, Nevada has increased inflation adjusted per pupil spending more than 80 percent since 1972, but SAT scores have fallen.

Meanwhile, no one is suggesting any budget cuts.

Cato Institute study of Nevada education spending and the results.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.