Editorial: New Nevada laws driving up the cost of doing business

Thanks to the Democrat-controlled 2019 legislative session it is going to be more expensive to do business in Nevada this year and in years to come.

The most expensive dictate from lawmakers takes effect July 1, when the first phase of Assembly Bill 456 kicks in raising the minimum wage in Nevada by 75 cents an hour. Currently the minimum wage for those with health insurance coverage is $7.25 an hour and $8.25 an hour for those without health benefits. The minimums increase to $8 and $9 this year and another 75 cents an hour each year until they reach $11 and $12 in 2024.

At the time of his signing the bill Gov. Steve Sisolak was quoted as saying, “Keeping working Nevadans stuck in a 10-year-old minimum wage erodes the real value and purchasing power of the wages of hardworking Nevadans. But with this bill, hundreds of thousands of working Nevadans will see a difference in their paycheck — extra hard-earned money they can use to put food on the table, save for their kids’ education, and re-invest into the economy.”

He did not deign to mention that some will go from minimum wage to no wage as jobs are eliminated and new jobs fail to be created. Others may see their hours cut to compensate for the higher wage cost. One study found the average low-wage worker in Seattle actually lost $125 a month when the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour. Not exactly what the lawmakers and the governor foresee for Nevada.

Of course, raising the minimum wage raises the cost of doing business, which translates immediately into higher costs for consumers. 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. AB456 increases the minimum wage in Nevada by more than 50 percent in five years.

In a recent article, the Nevada Appeal in Carson City quoted Johnny Skowronek, owner of staffing company Square One Solutions and incoming Northern Nevada Human Resources Association president, as saying he expects the service and retail industries to be hurt the most by minimum wage increases.

“Most bars, restaurants, casinos and retail operations pay minimum wage, and they are going to have to pass costs onto consumers,” Skowronek said. “The price of everything is going to go up without question in order to absorb this additional hard cost.”

Laura Jacobsen, an attorney with the law firm of McDonald Carano, told the Appeal some businesses are likely to layoff workers and/or move key personnel into salaried positions.

“Businesses are doing audits now on their pay scales to see how many folks they can continue to employ, whether they need to eliminate some positions, or have someone higher up absorb more executive responsibilities and be put on salary,” Jacobsen said. “It makes sense to streamline now if they can, but moving folks into supervisor positions, you have to make sure they fit the definition of a very specific exemption under the law. You might really have to tailor that job description and consult legal counsel to make sure (employees) are properly classified as exempt from wage per hour and overtime laws.”

Not only did lawmakers hike the minimum wage, but they also more strictly defined what health coverage is adequate to qualify for the dollar lower minimum wage. Senate Bill 192 requires that for a health benefits package to qualify for the lower-tier minimum wage it must include: ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use services, prescription drugs, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, pediatric services and other specified coverage.

On top of that Senate Bill 312 now requires private employers with 50 or more workers to provide 40 hours of paid leave each year for full-time workers.

Additionally, Senate Bill 166 adds the threat of civil penalties for any employer who fails live up to the requirement of equal pay for equal work based on gender.

Lawmakers should stop trying to “help” Nevada workers with laws that can do as much harm as good.

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.

Gary Varvel cartoon

Newspaper column: NEPA rules changes will benefit economy and environment

President Donald Trump announced this past week that his Council on Environmental Quality is streamlining the rules for major infrastructure projects — such as roads, bridges, pipelines and power transmission lines — required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, aiming to cut the approval time for such projects in half.

The council published the changes in the Federal Register on Friday, setting in motion a 60-day comment period. The changes are widely expected to be challenged in the courts by the usual self-styled environmental groups.

Businesses and labor unions hailed the proposal as long overdue, but environmental groups assailed it, saying the changes would contribute to climate change.

In an opinion piece penned for The Hill — Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions — argued that the changes would actually benefit the environment.

“Consistent with its environmental mission, modernizing NEPA will accelerate projects that improve the efficiency of our transportation and distribution systems, thereby reducing traffic congestion and associated emissions,” Donohue and McGarvey write. “It will also spur investment in renewable energy sources and transmission infrastructure, much of which is subject to delays by current NEPA procedures. And timelier implementation of conservation projects will help mitigate environmental impacts, such as damaging floods and wildfires.”

In recent years, major projects have taken an average of four-and-a-half years to be approved. The council aims to cut that to two years. A number of projects have taken far longer to be approved. An airport runway expansion in Taos, N.M., took 20 years. A highway and bridge project in Michigan to cut traffic congestion and, therefore, carbon emissions took 16 years. A Maryland public transit project stretched out for 14 years.

Trump announces changes to NEPA rules. (AP pix)

“We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster,” Trump was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying at a White House press conference, where he was flanked by business and union leaders. “These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”

The Journal noted that business groups claim lengthy NEPA reviews are partly to blame for a nearly $1 trillion backlog in transportation projects alone.

Democratic House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva of Arizona said in a press release, “Polluting industries need more public oversight, not less, and supporting this approach means ignoring real-world consequences in favor of Trump administration fairy tales. The courts have been crystal clear that NEPA requires considering climate impacts, so this is just another inevitably doomed effort by this administration to try to illegally rewrite the rules it doesn’t like.”

Nevada Democratic Rep. Susie Lee sent out a Twitter comment saying, “We’ve seen what happens if these major projects don’t have environmental impact reviews. Damaged ecosystems, increased pollution, and increased health risks. We can’t go backwards on this.”

Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei said Friday, “Since we’re only about 24 hours out from the release of the proposed changes, we’ll have more for you next week, but so far the concepts look good.”

Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus tweeted, “While horrific fires create a crisis in Australia, President Trump still tries to deny climate change. It is inexcusable for the Trump Administration to put the President’s corporate allies ahead of our health and safety.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the administration of blocking any federal efforts to confront climate change. “These new guidelines undermine critical building requirements that ensure that our communities are able to withstand the growing threat posed by the climate crisis,” she was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Even the liberal Los Angeles Times editorial board, in an editorial condemning the NEPA rule changes, conceded, “In truth, NEPA probably does need a tune-up. The current regulations date back to 1978 and have been amended only once since, in 1986. It’s reasonable to assume that all those years of experience have exposed flaws and shortcomings that could be addressed to improve and expedite the environmental review process. But the Trump administration, with its open denial of climate change and its industry-friendly policies aimed at expanding the production of fossil fuels, is not to be trusted with such a task.”

The streamlining of the bureaucracy will both contribute to economic growth and add infrastructure that will actually cut pollution in most cases. The naysayers are basing their projections of climate crisis on speculation and models that have yet to predict anything accurately.

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: Homeland Security concerned about illegals driving legally

The acting head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has ordered all the agencies under his purview to review the ramifications of state laws that allow illegal aliens to obtain driver authorization cards and restrict sharing data with immigration enforcement authorities.

Nevada is one of those 14 states.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 303 in 2013 and it was signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Ostensibly, the bill was intended to reduce the number of uninsured motorists on the roads, because it is difficult to obtain car insurance if one can’t legally drive.

But the bill, now ensconced in law as NRS 481.063, also dictates that the DMV “shall not release any information relating to legal presence or any other information relating to or describing immigration status, nationality or citizenship from a file or record relating to a request for or the issuance of a license, identification card or title or registration of a vehicle to any person or to any federal, state or local governmental entity for any purpose relating to the enforcement of immigration laws.”

This apparently was intended to assuage illegal aliens of the notion that obtaining a driver authorization card — which allows one to drive in Nevada but cannot be used for such things as boarding an aircraft — would subject them to actual enforcement of existing immigration law.

A March article in The Nevada Independent reported that there were at the time 49,000 active driver authorization cards issued in the state and another 3,500 learners’ permits for the cards.

What prompted Chad Wolf, the acting director of Homeland Security, to issue his memo this past week was the passage of similar laws in New York and New Jersey recently, according to The Daily Caller.

“Accordingly, I am instructing each operational component to conduct an assessment of the impact of these laws, so that the Department is prepared to deal with and counter these impacts as we protect the homeland,” Wolf’s memo read. Those components include U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.

After passage of the illegal alien driver authorization law in New York numerous county clerks pointed out that such a policy could pave the way for voter fraud, identity theft and even terrorism.

“Laws like New York’s greenlight law have dangerous consequences that have far reaches beyond the DMV,” Homeland Security spokeswomen Heather Swift was quoted as saying. “These types of laws make it easier for terrorists and criminals to obtain fraudulent documents and also prevent DHS investigators from accessing important records that help take down child pornography and human trafficking rings and combat everything from terrorism to drug smuggling.”

Wolf’s memo ordered agencies to determine what DMV information is currently available and what the consequences would be if that data were restricted.

“Never before in our history have we seen politicians make such rash and dangerous decisions to end all communication and cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security law enforcement,” The Daily Caller further quoted Swift. “The Secretary is prepared to take every measure necessary to ensure the safety and security of the homeland and we look forward to the recommendations of our agents and officers in the field.”

Las Vegas newspaper columnist Victor Joecks pointed out in an April 2018 column that the DMV uses the same forms for those getting a driver authorization card as for those getting a regular driver’s license. At the bottom of the form is a voter registration application. The form asks whether the applicant is a citizen and old enough to vote, but requires no proof whatsoever. Neither does the Secretary of State’s office, which processes the voter registration.

Highway safety concerns are important, but state abrogation of federal immigration law and voter registration integrity is hardly justifiable.

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: Trump is reshaping the federal judiciary — for the better

Thanks, Harry, because you exercised the “nuclear option” in 2013, ending the requirement that judges had to be confirmed by at least 60 senators instead of a simple majority, President Donald Trump has secured the appointments of about twice as many federal judges as each of his three predecessors — and most of them have been conservatives sworn to protect the fundamental liberties spelled out in the Constitution.

Of the 50 circuit court judges nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, only 17 managed to garner the previously mandated 60 Senate votes. Among those was former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, who was confirmed by a vote of 51-44 with both of Nevada’s Democratic senators choosing politics over principles and voting “nay.”

In November 2013, then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada exercised the nuclear option, calling for changing the Senate rules by a simple majority vote. It passed, 52-48 with three Democrats voting against changing the rules.

President Barack Obama praised the action saying Republicans were blocking his nominees based on politics alone, not on the merits of the nominee, according to a Politico account at the time.

Then-Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to recess the Senate for the day to block the vote. “The solution to this problem is an election,” he said. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election on 2014.”

Republicans regained the majority in the Senate in 2014. In 2017, now-Majority Leader McConnell further changed the rules to allow confirmation of Supreme Court justices by a simple majority. Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by a 54-45 vote, and Brett Kavanaugh by 50-48.

In addition, the Senate has confirmed 133 of Trump’s federal district court nominees. While most of those garnered more than 60 recorded votes, many were confirmed by a voice vote.

In an editorial praising the caliber of the Trump judicial nominees, The Wall Street Journal noted, “The Trump-McConnell judiciary may be Harry’s finest achievement.”

The editorial noted that when Trump took office, Democratic appointees made up a majority on nine of the 13 circuit courts. Trump’s 2019 appointments flipped the majorities in the 2nd, 3rd and 11th Circuit Courts, meaning seven circuits now have a majority of Republican appointees.

In addition, the longtime uber-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which VanDyke was appointed, now consists of 16 Democratic appointees and 13 Republican appointees. “Expect fewer headlines featuring nationwide injunctions out of San Francisco,” the editorial opined.

The Journal editorial predicts, “The new wave of conservative judges is more likely to protect such core liberties as religious freedom, political speech and assembly, gun and property rights. Many will also be more alert to violations of the Constitution’s separation of powers, including regulatory abuses. Yet there are varying opinions on criminal law, executive authority, and the scope of judicial restraint, among other issues.”

Reid is nothing if not consistent. In a recent op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, Reid complained, “Senate Republicans have hijacked our Supreme Court. They stole a seat that should have been filled by President Obama in 2016 and they rushed to confirm Brett Kavanaugh last year despite ample evidence that he lied to Congress. The result is the Supreme Court is now a ticking time bomb, set to blow up any meaningful progressive reforms for decades to come.”

He concedes his own role in the outcome, saying, “Changing the rules to confirm Obama’s highly qualified judges was the right and necessary thing to do. If we had not done it, Donald Trump would have inherited more judicial vacancies than he already did, and then even more of his right-wing ideologues would be on the bench today eviscerating rights Americans have long held dear.”

Like the Second Amendment right to gun ownership? Or the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion? The rights delineated in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments?

A recent Washington Examiner editorial also notes what Reid has unintentionally wrought and concludes, “During his run for the presidency, Trump regularly and energetically promised to make a priority of putting well-credentialed conservatives of excellent character and scholarship on the federal bench. It is a promise he has kept, much to his credit and for the country’s greater good.”

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: State should not play favorites with tax breaks

Nevada’s Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has doled out billions of dollars worth of tax breaks to select companies over the past decade in order to entice them to make capital investments and create jobs, yet the state is one of 17 that has failed to create a systematic program for evaluating the effectiveness of those handouts, according to a recent article in Las Vegas Weekly, citing data compiled by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Companies getting the tax breaks include giants such as Tesla Motors, Apple, Amazon, eBay and Switch.

According to Pew, without strict evaluation the cost, such tax incentives can easily exceed the benefits to the local economy.

The 2019 Legislature passed Assembly Bill 444, which would have created a legislative committee to study GOED tax incentives and make recommendations, but Gov. Steve Sisolak vetoed it, saying it duplicated existing efforts. In October Sisolak appointed former Barrick Gold USA president Michael Brown to head the GOED.

“Michael’s decades-long career at the highest levels in business, coupled with his extensive experience in state and federal government, gives him an unparalleled perspective and expertise on what it takes to further GOED’s mission of promoting a robust, diversified, and prosperous economy for all Nevadans,” Sisolak said at the time.”

The Weekly quoted Brown as saying he plans to review some of the state’s incentive programs. “The governor has asked me to do a big think on this, to go back to the framework on this and design something that matches Nevada and [the governor’s] goals to help working class families,” Brown was quoted as saying.

The Nevada Independent recently quoted Sisolak as saying, “My vision of GOED is different than the previous administration. I’m not interested in quantity, I’m interested in quality. I’m interested in careers, not in minimum wage jobs that don’t have any room for advancement.”

A stricter evaluation of the handout program would be a welcome change, but perhaps the entire program should be reconsidered.

In a Washington Post article in 2014 Nathan Jensen, a political science professor at George Washington University, described tax incentives as bidding wars between states that amounted to a zero-sum game.

“Simply shifting companies from one state to the next does nothing, at least not right away, to create new openings for the millions of still unemployed Americans, Jensen added while presenting some of his latest economic development research,” the Post reported. “Nevertheless, nearly every municipality across the country offers some type of tax incentives to encourage existing companies to relocate, costing taxpayers around $70 billion annually.”

Jensen has compared job creation by companies in Kansas that were attracted to open there with huge tax incentives to similar firms that got no handouts. He found that six years after incentives were awarded, “the firms who received incentives actually generated slightly fewer jobs than those that didn’t receive incentives.”

It should also be noted that such handouts are constitutionally suspect. The Nevada Constitution declares, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It’s not uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

A 2018 report from the Cato Institute noted, “Politicians will tend to overuse targeted tax incentives because they create a clientele of voters (the ‘ribbon-cutting’ phenomenon). Broad-based low tax rates do not create a committed political constituency in the same way. But a state-by-state comparison shows that low taxes and other pro-market policies are the best way to grow jobs and economies.”

No matter how benign, the heavy hand of government seldom makes better choices than the invisible hand of the free market..

The next Legislature should at least consider evaluating the effectiveness of tax incentives, but, better yet, lawmakers should consider eliminating the GOED and treat all businesses equally as the Constitution dictates.

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.

Joel Pett cartoon

Newspaper column: Congress continues its spending spree

Just days before Christmas, Congress played Santa Claus, doling out billions in pork to those who have been nice to them and sending the bill to our grandchildren. Talk about taxation without representation.

The two spending bills totaling $1.4 trillion and covering more than 2,300 pages were debated for just 90 minutes in the Senate but passed with huge bipartisan support in both chambers. While Republicans got funding for a border wall and the Pentagon, Democrats wrangled billions for domestic programs.

There was more money for Head Start and early childhood education — which has failed to show any longterm education improvements — more money for the Environmental Protection Agency, extension of the Export-Import Bank corporate welfare, a bailout for miners’ bankrupt pensions and health care funds, repeal of all the taxes meant to fund ObamaCare, more disaster relief for farm states, money for gun violence research, tax breaks for biodiesel, distilleries, race-horse and Nascar owners and renewable energy.

The bills did manage to forestall a “shutdown” of the federal government during the holidays, unlike last year’s 35-day federal worker paid vacation.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — responsible federal budget, now there’s an oxymoron — the additional $500 billion in spending over the next decade combined with an earlier $1.7 trillion lifting of discretionary spending caps will add $2.2 trillion to the national debt in 10 years. This will increase the debt as a percentage of gross domestic product from 79 percent to 97 percent.

But don’t try to blame the deficit on President Trump’s tax cuts. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Congressional Budget Office “says tax receipts grew 4% last fiscal year, through September, and 3% in the first two months this year. Economic growth is feeding the Treasury. But spending is growing much faster: 8% last fiscal year, more than four times the inflation rate, and 6% in October and November this year.” With more of the same to come.

Nevada’s delegation joined in the spending spree, though Democratic Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas voted “nay” on the bill that included funding for the border wall. “I could not vote in good conscience to reward this Administration with over a billion dollars in border wall funding after they’ve stolen money from our troops to build an ineffective barrier,” Titus said in a press release. “We must stand up stronger to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

On the other hand Nevada’s lone Republican in the delegation, Rep. Mark Amodei boasted of the fact one of the bills included border wall funding. “Look at what we can actually accomplish when we make it a priority,” Amodei’s press release stated. “In terms of the reforms, funding priorities, and responsible spending reductions included in these bills, Nevadans can certainly claim a number of victories. More specifically, these packages will increase funding for Department of Interior (DOI) operations including wildland fire management, Lake Tahoe restoration efforts, hazardous fuels reductions, watershed restoration, and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program.”

Titus did make a point of the fact the spending bill she did vote for contained no funding for revitalization of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Democratic Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen also mentioned the lack of Yucca Mountain funding. “I’m glad to see both Democrats and Republicans come to the table with a bipartisan deal that does not fund Yucca Mountain, keeps the government open, and invests in Nevada’s health care, workforce, education, and infrastructure,” Rosen said in a press release. “This deal does a lot to help Nevada’s hardworking families by repealing three costly health care taxes and includes my provision to invest in telehealth programs, making health care more affordable and accessible.”

Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford made much of the fact one spending bill increases the pay for members of the military. “Our military service members are the greatest asset to our national defense and it is an honor today to vote to approve funding that includes crucial improvements for their everyday lives and the lives of their families and loved ones,” a Horsford press release said.

Remember who will be paying in the coming decades for all that spending now.

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 more things change the more they stay the same. This a Gary Varvel editorial cartoon from 2013:

This is a Gary Varvel editorial cartoon from a couple of weeks ago:

Editorial: Goal of zero emissions on public land a futile gesture

Democrats in the House of Representatives this past week unleashed their latest pie-in-the-sky legislation intended to save the planet from frying like an egg due to catastrophic global warming due to carbon emissions.

The bill, if passed, which thankfully is highly unlikely, would require zero emissions from drilling, mining and other activities on federal public lands by 2040, and immediately halt oil and gas leasing for at least a year, according to a Reuters dispatch.

“To solve our climate crisis we need to solve this problem from two sides,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the Democratic-controlled House Natural Resources Committee. He said the bill would slash emissions from energy production on federal land and preserve vegetation and forests so they may absorb carbon.

“Putting a stop to all new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters is a vital first step in stopping the climate crisis, and it’s heartening to see Chairman Grijalva propose a framework that could ultimately achieve that,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “But much more is needed to undo the incredible damage the Trump administration has caused through its massive increase in fossil fuel leasing, to say nothing of the decades of reckless fossil fuel leasing that has already occurred.”

The same press release notes that the United Nations Environment Program issued a report this past month stating world governments plan to greatly increase fossil fuels production. So what good will cutting production on public lands do?

Never mind that the brunt of the burden of this foolish venture would fall on the Western states, where the majority of public lands lie and especially on Nevada, 85 percent of whose land is controlled by the federal bureaucracy. This would cost countless jobs and shrink the economies of rural areas of the West. While Nevada is not rich in oil and natural gas, its mining jobs are some of the best paid in the state and mining taxes support many communities.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is shrugging off its share of the emissions control effort. Of the nearly 200 countries that signed off on the Paris climate accord a couple of years ago, only two have actually met emissions reductions goals, Morocco and Gambia, according to a PBS report in September.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that China, the top carbon emitter in the world, is adding more coal-fired plants than the rest of the world combined and is building coal plants in other countries, too. The U.S., the world’s second-largest emitter, saw carbon emissions rise 3.4 percent in 2018.

Also, pay no attention to the fact there has been no significant global warming since 2005. Those hottest years on record claims are well within the margin of error.

The bill is a senseless and futile gesture, but Democrats are just the ones try 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.