Editorial: Nevada slipping in its embrace of personal and economic freedom

Nevada ranking 12th in the nation in terms of economic and personal freedom, according to the Cato Institute, is not too shabby — until you notice that we’ve fallen from No. 5 in 2000.

Having legalized gambling and county-option legalized prostitution probably helps in the personal freedom category, but we’ve been marked down for continually raising taxes and having too many business regulations and license requirements.

But what is really frightening is that Cato’s Freedom in the 50 States only analyzed economic data through 2014, which fails to take into account that the 2015 Legislature passed, and the governor signed, a record-setting $1.5 billion increase in taxes. Who knows how far Nevada will fall once that data is taken into account?

Cato analysts scored all 50 states on more than 200 standards including fiscal policies, as well as personal and regulatory freedom.

Cato points out that Nevada state-level taxes have risen from a low of 4.9 percent of personal income in 2009 to about 5.9 percent in 2014. Local taxes have also risen. Also government debt is well above average and rising — from 22 percent of income in 2000, state and local debt in 2014 stood at more than 26 percent of income. That is probably partly due to the $40 billion in unfunded liability for the public employee pension fund.

The analysts mistakenly credited the state Supreme Court for some of the rise in taxation. “Nevada’s fiscal policy has worsened over time, a fact that might have something to do with a 2003 Nevada Supreme Court decision setting aside part of the state constitution, which required a supermajority for tax increases,” the Cato piece reports, neglecting to notice that the court repudiated that Guinn v. Legislature decision three years later. So we’ll just have to blame the lawmakers and executive branch.

We lost freedom points in the area of education, Cato notes, “Nevada was one of the worst states for educational freedom. Private schools are tightly regulated, facing mandatory state approval, mandatory teacher licensing, and detailed private school curriculum control. However, our index does not take account of the educational savings account plan passed in 2015, which in 2014 would have raised its educational freedom score to average.”

Cato did not note that the education savings accounts have yet to be implemented due to litigation questioning the law’s constitutionality.

Nevadans should be concerned about how we will rank in future analyses of our embrace of fundamental freedoms, because freedom requires equal applications of the laws and taxation. The Nevada Constitution dictates a “uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation.”

But the state has been handing out tax breaks and tax credits and outright grants to companies that curry favor with public officials, leaving the rest of the taxpayers to foot the bill for public services needed by those favored few. Hardly conducive to freedom or equality.

Tesla Motors was given $1.3 billion in tax breaks and credits for its new battery manufacturing plant near Sparks that opened recently with much fanfare and at a much smaller size than promised. One critic called it a Potemkin Village.

Then there were millions in similar credits for Chinese-financed Faraday Future, which says it will build an electric car manufacturing plant, though it does not even have a prototype.

And where’s the fairness in a $1.2 million grant to solar panel installer SolarCity, which has since shutdown most operations in the state?

Nevada was once known as a live and let live state. We need to return to those values — letting people make choices for themselves and keep their own money, rather than send it to Carson City to dole out to others.

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: Western officials fear new EPA rules could cripple mining operations

There is growing fear among officials across the West that in the waning days of the Obama administration his Environmental Protection Agency may enact regulations that could cost the hard rock mining industry billions of dollars, jeopardizing jobs and entire communities.

Earlier this year, the EPA, as is its wont, settled a lawsuit from a passel of self-styled environmental groups by agreeing to write further regulations requiring additional financial assurances — in the form of expensive surety bonds — that mining sites will be adequately cleaned up and reclaimed at the end of operations.

The court gave the EPA until Dec. 1 to write these new rules.

Lest we forget, it was the geniuses at the EPA who bungled the reclamation of the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colo., a year ago, dumping millions of gallons of toxic-metal-laced pollutants into the Animas River, turning it a bright yellow.

The Western Governors’ Association and the chairs of two key U.S. House committees have sent letters to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the EPA, asking for information about what the agency plans to do and pointing out that the states and various federal agencies already have reclamation bonding requirements in place and that any additional requirements could be duplicative and costly to the industry.

The letter from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, stressed their concerns that the EPA is not analyzing existing federal and state reclamation requirements.

“If the Agency fails to reduce the amount of the CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, otherwise dubbed the Superfund Law) financial assurance obligation to account for these programs, it will result in the unnecessary and duplicative imposition of many billions of dollars of financial assurance requirements on the mining industry.”

The governors’ letter, signed by Wyoming’s Matthew Mead and Montana’s Steve Bullock, asks for an explanation as to why “existing state programs are insufficient to address the concerns …”

A spokesman for Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy commented, “This administration has an unfortunate track record of issuing onerous regulations that are especially painful for states like Nevada that have large mining sectors. As an active member of the Natural Resources Committee, Congressman Hardy will continue to work with the chairman to hold the EPA accountable and prevent job-killing regulations from doing further damage to our state economy.”

Nevada Mining Association President Dana Bennett has sent a letter to EPA officials saying that the new regulations would have significant economic impact on all miners in the state, “but it will be Nevada’s small miners, who have limited financial and human resources, that will be hit the hardest.”

She also said the proposed rules duplicate currently effective state and federal programs.

Bennett wrote that the EPA has failed to establish a need for further federal rulemaking and has not provided those who will be affected with necessary scientific or economic analysis, noting there has been no cost-benefit analysis and that the costs “appear to vastly outweigh any potential health or environmental benefits.” (2016 Letter re CERCLA)

She also argued that current mines should be exempted from any new programs because it would be fundamentally unfair to add unanticipated regulatory costs that would “threaten the economic viability of the mines and associated jobs and community benefits.”

The National Mining Association has reported that “a growing number of organizations – from state governments to surety underwriters — are expressing concern that EPA is about to impose economically harmful and unnecessary bonding requirements on mineral mining companies.”

In mid-June the House Natural Resources Committee passed a package of 19 mining bills to address funding, technical and legal impediments to mine cleanup efforts. Of course, that will not deter the EPA.

Bishop said at the time, “If we’ve learned anything from the EPA’s Gold King mine disaster, it’s that the federal government lacks the expertise, resources and capacity to reclaim abandoned mines. … This package provides much-needed liability protections and creative solutions to develop the technical talent and funding resources to ensure cleanup is done safely and without further delay.”

According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, mining accounts for a large majority of the jobs in Esmeralda, Eureka and Lander counties and a large percentage in several other rural counties. Excessive regulatory costs added to the already uncertain fortunes of mining companies in a volatile market could devastate some communities that rely on gold, silver, copper and, perhaps someday, lithium production.

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.

The Coeur Rochester silver mine in the Humboldt River Basin (USGS photo) States.

Harry bounces off the walls in newspaper interview

Gov. Brian Sandoval should sue for slander.

During an editorial board meeting with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Harry Reid was bouncing off the walls like a rhetorical cue ball — calling Joe Heck the most fraudulent person he has seen in 50 years in politics, accusing the mother of a Benghazi victim of being crazy and praising Sandoval.

Harry Reid (RGJ photo)

“I wish we had more Republicans like Brian Sandoval, who you haven’t seen rushing to endorse this Republican nominee Donald Trump,” the paper quoted Reid as saying. “But Joe Heck, whoa, man, he loves this guy. He campaigns with him and thinks he’s the best. So, I like Brian Sandoval a lot. We need more Republicans like him.”

Sandoval should sue. For Harry Reid to praise anyone with an R after his name is defamation and libel per se.

The paper got a reaction from Heck but failed to give Sandoval a chance for a rejoinder.

“We all know Harry hasn’t been firing on all cylinders over the past couple years and this is just another example of how out of touch he is with Nevadans,” Heck said in a statement to the paper. “His retirement cannot come soon enough so that Nevada can have someone who truly represents them in this seat.”

The best laugh line of the meeting was: “I don’t accept anybody that criticizes me for being partisan, because I’m not. Only when I have to be, which is a lot lately.”

Finally, having two newspapers in one bag fills in both sides of the story

Sheldon Adelson (R-J file photo)

Ronald Reagan said during a 1980 primary debate in New Hampshire, “I am paying for this microphone.”

Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson is paying for his microphone, which happens to be a front-page printed news story in the Las Vegas newspaper today and the lede position of the paper’s website for the dissemination of his “statement” calling on fellow casino executive MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren to support his proposed football stadium, apparently along with a big chunk of public funding. The current request stands at $750 million via room tax rate hikes.

The obligatory disclaimer at the end of the story reveals: “The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.”

The R-J dutifully reported this morning, “Murren declined to respond to Adelson’s comments Monday, but Murren is on record as favoring the stadium if less public money is contributed to the project.” The Adelson statement reportedly disputes what it describes as  “Murren’s position” — that a convention center expansion is a “must-have” tourism addition, while a stadium would be merely “nice to have.”

The Oakland Raiders have expressed an interest in relocating to Las Vegas if a stadium is built.

But, as Mark Twain is incorrectly credited with saying, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed,” only in this case you have to read two newspapers to be fully misinformed.

You see, delivered in the same bag on the driveway today is the Las Vegas Sun section, which happens to have a front-page story on how Murren views a number of topics, including the proposed stadium. The piece was actually posted online this past Friday, but not deemed worthy of print until today.

The article recounts:

Murren said that, as a football fan, he would love to see an NFL team in Las Vegas and that some level of public funding is appropriate. However, he said he doesn’t have enough information to be able to say what that level should be — the cost of the stadium, other infrastructure costs, how the capital will be pulled together, or what the burden is on the taxpayer.

“Without all that information it’s difficult to say I’m a big fan,” Murren said.

Plus, he said that he chafes at the suggestion that the public wouldn’t be paying for the stadium by virtue of tourists covering the room tax, since a significant chunk of the money goes toward education as well as other funds across the state.

The paper said Murren supports a special session of the state Legislature to approve a room tax hike to pay for the convention center expansion. He also was quoted as saying he does not want to raise the room tax so much that it becomes a disadvantage in competing with other cities for conventions.

In December, as Adelson was taking control of the newspaper, the R-J published an editorial explaining how his ownership might alter some of the newspaper’s long-standing editorial positions. It included this observation about the convention center expansion plans:

Mr. Adelson considers the convention authority, which is funded by room taxes and operates the Las Vegas Convention Center, a publicly subsidized competitor to his company’s Sands Expo and Convention Center. His company opposes the authority’s $2.3 billion convention center expansion plan. The Review-Journal supports it.

Potential change in position: Complete reversal.

Looks like the battle of the casino titans will be played out on the microphones each chooses.

Jim Murren (Sun file photo)

 

 

Senate race Social Security issue revisted

Chileans protest their private pension program. (Reuters photo via WSJ)

As Nevada’s two major party Senate candidates continue to parry and thrust over the issues — with Social Security as one of those — we might hear more about this weekend’s protests in Chile, where, in 1981, the nation privatized its pension program.

According to The Wall Street Journal, thousands took to the streets demanding a dismantling of that private pension system because its payouts are too low.

 

Catherine Cortez Masto has been accusing Joe Heck of advocating privatization of Social Security, though he actually has merely suggested allowing younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security contributions.

According to WSJ, Chileans on average retire on less than 38 percent of their pre-retirement income, compared to almost 45 percent of pre-retirement income for Americans on Social Security.

Workers in Chile contributed 10 percent of their wages to an investment account. U.S. workers and their employers each kick in 6.2 percent of wages up to $118,500 a year.

The plan in Chile is to start requiring employers to pony up 5 percent of wages, but that doesn’t help current retirees, 80 percent of them living on less than minimum wage and 44 percent below the poverty line.

But you have to read to the final paragraphs of the report to learn the reason for this apparent disparity.

The problem is that too many Chileans fail to consistently contribute to the system.

Those who contributed for at least 30 years received an average pension amounting to 77 percent of pre-retirement income.

Editorial: Most sheriffs and the governor oppose gun background check initiative

Three out of four Nevada county sheriffs agree, Question 1 on the November ballot, the Nevada Background Checks for Gun Purchases Initiative, should be voted down, because it will do nothing to prevent gun violence, will be too costly and merely put honest people in jeopardy of running afoul of a nitpicking law.

The National Rifle Association reports opposition to Question 1 has been announced by Sheriff Ken Furlong (Carson City), Sheriff Ben Trotter (Churchill County), Sheriff Ron Pierini (Douglas County), Sheriff Jim Pitts (Elko County), Sheriff Keith Logan (Eureka County), Sheriff Ron Unger (Lander County), Sheriff Kerry Lee (Lincoln County), Sheriff Al McNeil (Lyon County), Sheriff Sharon Wehrly (Nye County), Sheriff Gerald Antinoro (Storey County), Sheriff Chuck Allen (Washoe County) and Sheriff Mike Allen (Humboldt County).

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has chosen to remain neutral and others are silent on the matter.

Most recently, Gov. Brian Sandoval has added his voice to the opposition. “The governor does not support Question 1. He has concerns that this measure would dilute the legitimate rights of law-abiding Nevadans and that it does not actually address the complex issue of keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals,” said Mari St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the governor.

St. Martin has noted that existing law already prohibits a person from selling or giving a firearm or ammunition to another person if he or she has actual knowledge that the other person is under indictment for or has been convicted of a felony, is a fugitive from justice, has been found mentally ill or is in the country illegally.

Question 1 would require “universal” background checks and require law enforcement to scrutinize virtually every gun sale or transfer. It is being pushed by Nevadans for Background Checks, which is funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. It would require most gun transfers to be conducted through a federally licensed firearms dealer.

A summary of the measure reads in part: “This initiative requires that an unlicensed person who wishes to sell or transfer a firearm to another person conduct the transfer through a licensed gun dealer who runs a background check on the potential buyer or transferee. A licensed dealer may charge a reasonable fee for this service.”

Elko County Sheriff Jim Pitts has been quoted as saying, “This is for one thing a law that we can’t enforce. There’s no way of enforcing this. Only the citizens who follow the law are going to be the ones who follow it, and the ones that are the criminals aren’t going to follow it anyway. How are we going to follow it up?”

Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen said Question 1 infringes upon the Second Amendment and “will do absolutely nothing to stop criminals while criminalizing the commonplace activities of many Nevada gun owners.”

Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong has said, “Any bill that does not address mental health, which I believe to be the core cause of the violence we’ve had across the country, does not meet my expectations.”

Sheriff Sharon Wehrly in Nye County has said, “It merely places more restrictions on good people, will make it more difficult, and incur unnecessary costs for law-abiding citizens to manage their personal property.”

A recent survey conducted by Las Vegas television station KTNV in conjunction with Rasmussen Reports found that 65 percent of those polled support the background checks initiative and only 28 percent opposed it with 7 percent undecided.

Perhaps the majority of sheriffs and the governor can help persuade the voters that one more unenforceable law on the books will just add to the regulatory burden and cost and do nothing to increase safety.

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: Which Senate candidate is correct on handling Social Security?

Heck and Cortez Masto

The race to replace Harry Reid in the Senate is one of the most closely watched and highly contested elections in the nation this year. The most recent poll has Republican Rep. Joe Heck leading Reid’s hand-picked Democratic opponent, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, by 3 points — 38 percent to 35 percent with the substantial remainder undecided.

More than $11 million dollars has been spent by outside organizations on this race, the fourth highest in the nation, according to OpenSecrets.org.

On almost every issue the two candidates take opposing stances, but perhaps the most contentious is what to do about Social Security.

Cortez Masto has latched onto a comment then-freshman Congressman Heck made during a meeting with constituents five years ago in which he called Social Security a “pyramid scheme” in which “the people after you are paying for your benefits.”

She has accused Heck of wanting to privatize Social Security to benefit big banks and Wall Street.

“Congressman Heck’s Washington handlers did more contortions than an Olympic gymnast in trying to defend his record of putting Wall Street and the Big Banks ahead of Nevada families,” Zach Hudson, spokesperson for the Cortez Masto campaign said in a recent press release. “First Congressman Heck’s handlers falsely say he does not support the privatization of Social Security — then they immediately say he does support putting the retirement security of Nevada seniors in the hands of Wall Street.”

What Heck has suggested is allowing younger workers to have the option of privately investing some portion of the money that currently is deducted from their paychecks for Social Security.

Heck’s campaign argues that he is “the only candidate in the race for U.S. Senate who is willing to heed the warnings being issued by the Medicare and Social Security trustees. Those warnings are clear: Medicare and Social Security, upon which thousands of Nevada seniors rely, are not on sound financial footing and need to be strengthened if they are to provide the health and income security our seniors deserve. Ignoring those challenges, which would be Ms. Cortez Masto’s approach, will result in benefit cuts and uncertainty for those near retirement age.”

A Democratic super PAC recently spent $900,000 on commercials attacking Heck’s stance on Social Security.

In the middle of this contretemps, Reid himself put out a press release a week ago on the 81st anniversary of the creation of Social Security praising the program for “providing millions with the economic security they have earned and deserve.”

Reid fulminated, “Unfortunately, despite decades of success, many Republicans continue to threaten the future of Social Security. Republican leaders routinely exaggerate the financial challenges facing the program in an effort to create a false sense of crisis. … I have spent my career fending off attacks against Social Security.”

This is the same Reid who earlier in his career took to the floor of the Senate on Oct. 9, 1990, standing next to a sign emblazoned in red letters with the word “embezzlement.”

“It is time for Congress, I think, to take its hands — and I add the president in on that — off the Social Security surpluses. Stop hiding the horrible truth of the fiscal irresponsibility that we have talked about here the past two weeks. It is time to return those dollars to the hands of those who earned them — the Social Security beneficiaries and future beneficiaries. …” Reid ranted. “I think that is a very good illustration of what I was talking about, embezzlement, thievery.”

Nothing has changed in the past 26 years except Reid’s politics.

In fact, the Social Security Board of Trustees in its 2016 annual report states that Social Security reserves will be depleted in 2034, after which there will be sufficient funds to pay only three-quarters of scheduled benefits.

As for the argument that private investments are too risky, Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner notes that if workers who retired in 2011 had been allowed to invest just half of their payroll tax deductions they would have retired with more income than they are getting under Social Security and, even under the worst-case scenario,  their benefits would equal traditional Social Security payouts.

“With Social Security already running a cashflow deficit today — and facing a $21 trillion shortfall in the future that will make it impossible to pay promised benefits — private investment and personal accounts should be part of any discussion about reforming the troubled system,” Tanner advocates.

Sounds like what Heck proposes.

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.