Newspaper column: Nevada still has a role to play in nuclear deterrence

After learning this past week that the Department of Energy had secretly shipped a thousand pounds of weapons-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site in Nye County before the state had filed a federal lawsuit in November seeking to block such shipments, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s entire Democratic delegation to D.C. flew into paroxysms of apoplexy, accusing the Trump administration of deception and dealing unfairly with the state.

Sisolak put out a statement declaring, “I am beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department led the State of Nevada to believe that they were engaging in good-faith negotiations with us regarding a potential shipment of weapons-grade plutonium, only to reveal that those negotiations were a sham all along. They lied to the State of Nevada, misled a federal court, and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was similarly indignant, charging that the Energy Department had “negotiated in bad faith, hiding the timing of their shipment and refused to share crucial information with Members of Congress who had the security clearance to know.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Time and again, we have seen Trump Administration officials treat Nevada as the dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen called the shipment “deceitful and unethical” and said “the lack of transparency from the Department of Energy is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Susie Lee decried, “Nevada officials were deceived by sham ‘negotiations’ while the safety of millions was jeopardized, as was the environment and economy of dozens of states. Nevada is not the nation’s nuclear dumping ground. Period.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district includes what most Nevadans still call the Test Site, also bemoaned, “Our state is not a dumping ground for the nation’s hazardous waste, and we have no intention of letting it become one.”

The Energy Department responded with its own statement, saying it was inaccurate to state that the Nevada delegation was not informed and the agency made efforts to ensure members of Congress and state officials representing the states involved were notified as early as August 2018.

The agency also said, “It is also inaccurate to characterize this material as ‘waste’. This material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile, and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.”

Of course the shipment was secret. No one wants to give potential terrorists an itinerary. As for deceiving the court, the shipment had already been sent when the state’s suit was filed and the court was told this past week when the information was declassified.

What does anyone think the test site is used for in the first place? Since the Cold War it literally has been ground zero for nuclear tests and development of our nuclear deterrence. It is remote and secure.

Speaking of deterrence, the ruckus over the plutonium shipment came mere days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is pulling out of a nuclear arms control pact with Russia because of its ongoing and flagrant violations.

“When an agreement is so brazenly disregarded and our security is so openly threatened, we must respond,” Pompeo said. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.”

This means the U.S. will need to catch up with its potential adversaries, Russia and China, both of which have deployed long-range, nuclear-tipped missiles. That means maintaining and, yes, even adding to our nuclear arsenal.

The very reason the plutonium was shipped to Nevada was because a federal court had ordered it removed from the Savannah River facility in South Carolina because the government had failed to build a facility to convert the plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. It is being stored here until it can be shipped to Los Alamos, N.M., where it can be processed for weapons with which to defend our country.

That is the role the test site has fulfilled for decades and needs to continue to do, despite the histrionics from Democratic politicians.

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.

Newspaper column: State public employee unions will bust the budget

Ramirez cartoon

While Gov. Steve Sisolak has promised no new taxes in his proposed budget for the next two years, he also plans to light the fuse on a huge tax bomb in the future.

In his State of the State speech in Carson City before lawmakers he casually  tossed out that state public employees “should be empowered to bargain collectively in the years ahead.” Since 1969 local government workers in Nevada have been allowed to form unions and collectively bargain for pay and benefits, but   not so state government employees.

Sisolak doubled down during an interview at the Smith Center in Las Vegas with the editor of the news and commentary website The Nevada Independent, saying, state public workers generally are paid less than local government workers and discussion of collective bargaining rights for state workers is long overdue.

Sisolak said, “Our state employees should be treated in a fair and respectful manner. The fact that they haven’t had a raise in 10 years and the fact they don’t have the same working conditions that other jurisdictions had. I’m coming from a county that employees did have collective bargaining … they make a lot more money. … The pay is probably 30 to 40 percent less than any other governmental entity that exists. And to attract good people at those wages is simply not going to happen.”

After editor Jon Ralston pointed out that collective bargaining would cost the state a lot more tax money, the governor responded, “We’re going to invest in our people, Jon. That’s a good thing. I don’t think that’s a downside. We’re going to invest in the people who provide services to Nevada and we’re going to have to find the resources in order to make those accommodations.”

First of all, state workers were given 3 percent cost-of-living pay increases in each of the past two years.

For years local government pay in Nevada has exceeded those in both state government employ and in the private sector, due to collective bargaining. But according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for the second quarter of 2018 the average weekly wage for private sector Nevadans was $908, while the local government worker was paid $1,049 and the state public employee averaged $1,097. By the way, the federal employees in Nevada averaged $1,406.

Back on Nevada Day this past year, the researchers at the Nevada Policy Research Institute crunched the Census data for 2017 and found that local government workers in Nevada were the fifth highest paid in the country compared to other local government employees, while Nevada’s private-sector workers ranked a distant 47th compared to private sector workers in other states.

“On a statewide basis, government pay and benefits cost taxpayers roughly $10 billion last year — which was equal to 80 percent of all tax revenue collected by every state and local government agency in Nevada,” noted NPRI policy director Robert Fellner. “Thus, in the event Nevada’s government pay gap continues its upward growth, the resulting tax hikes necessary to sustain such excess may become too great to bear.”

Fellner argued, “Because such outsized pay packages come at the expense of taxpayers who earn much less themselves, elected officials should consider the fairness and sustainability of continually caving in to government unions’ endless demands for even more.”

Imagine what the future will look like if state workers are allowed to form unions and bargain collectively.

Under Nevada’s collective bargaining law, if negotiations come to an impasse, an arbitrator is appointed to settle the dispute and the primary criteria for granting a union’s demands is whether the government entity has the ability to pay what is demanded. That determination is usually in favor of the union.

As we have noted in the past, none other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointed out in a 1937 letter the problem with collective bargaining for public employees: “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

When the people are paid less than their servants, who is the master?

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.

Newspaper column: Sisolak budget would ‘tax’ state economy

Gov. Steve Sisolak calls for more spending. (KUNR pix)

A tax by any other name is still a tax.

In his State of the State speech this past week newly minted Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak promised to spend more money without any new taxes. He emphasized this by repeating, “Let me say that again. This balanced budget ​does not contain any new taxes​.”

Depends on how you define “tax” and “new tax.”

One definition of tax is: a burdensome charge, obligation, duty or demand. Sisolak’s proposed budget is packed with those.

One of the more burdensome proposals the governor proffered was to raise the minimum wage. “It’s impossible for an individual, let alone a family, to live on $7.25 an hour,” Sisolak declared, paying no heed to the fact almost no one “lives” on minimum wage. Fewer than 3 percent of workers are paid the minimum wage and most of them are under age 25 and working part-time. Most are supplementing family income rather than being self-supporting.

Sisolak did not say how high he wants the minimum wage raised, but on the campaign trail he had mentioned $10 an hour but did not seem averse to the more commonly mentioned $15 an hour.

Raising the minimum wage in some cities has resulted in marginally profitable businesses closing, some workers being laid off, others having hours cut and costs to customers increased. One study found the average low-wage worker in Seattle lost $125 a month because the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour.

In another blow to the bottom line, Sisolak proposed resurrecting a 2017 bill that would have reimposed the requirement that all construction workers on public projects be paid what is called a prevailing wage. In 2015 lawmakers exempted school construction.

“This session I will work to return prevailing wage to public construction projects — as it was before the 2015 session — including, and most importantly, for our children’s schools,” Sisolak said. “Not only do prevailing wage laws support highly skilled workers in Nevada, they guarantee our children are learning in well-constructed, high quality educational facilities. Let’s do this.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the 2017 bill saying it would make school construction more costly. Prevailing wage laws require that workers on public construction jobs be paid no less than the “prevailing” wage in the area where the work is being done. The wage rate is set by the state Labor Commissioner based on a survey of contractors. The survey is so time consuming that in reality only union shops bother to comply, meaning the prevailing wage is the highest union wage.

It is estimated this law requires the state, cities, counties, school districts and other government entities to pay 45 percent higher wages for public construction projects than necessary — a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion a year.

Additionally, Sisolak proposes to give 3 percent salary hikes to all state workers and teachers, plus 2 percent merit raises each year for teachers. In the past 99.75 percent of state teachers have been rated highly effective or effective. Those raises will also require higher contributions for pensions.

The governor also proposes changing the school funding formula. “I also look forward to working with Legislative leadership to review the decades old Nevada Plan to ensure that tax dollars for education follow the student,” he said. “We have to make sure our statewide funding formula is equitable for every student in every county.”

The school funding formula is weighted to take into account the transportation costs in each county, as well as the relative wealth in each county. Thus, poorer rural counties get more money per pupil. Any formula adjustments doubtlessly would mean taking money from rural counties and giving it to Clark County.

As for no “new taxes,” Sisolak is calling for reversing the scheduled reduction of two current taxes — the payroll tax and a vehicle registration tax.

He further calls for increasing the percent of renewable power generation in Nevada to 50 percent by 2030. Study after study has found such market manipulation increases power rates and cost jobs, while not decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and creating eyesores on rural lands.

All of these are likely to be warmly embraced by the Democratic majorities in the state Senate and Assembly.

Sisolak’s total state budget, not the general fund, for the next two years is nearly a 12 percent increase over the past two years, though inflation has been less than 2.5 percent.

Is there anyone out there who might deign to suggest letting the taxpayers keep a little of their money?

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.

Look out for Clark County grab for education funding

Sisolak delivers State of State speech

There was one line in Gov. Steve Sisolak’s State of the State speech Wednesday night that should cause rural Nevadans concern — the talk about changing the school funding formula.

“I also look forward to working with Legislative Leadership to review the decades old Nevada Plan to ensure that tax dollars for education follow the student,” he said. “We have to make sure our statewide funding formula is equitable for ​every student​ in ​every​ ​county​.”

The school funding formula is weighted to take into account the transportation costs in each county, as well as the relative wealth in each county. Thus, poorer rural counties with long commutes get more money per pupil. Any formula adjustments doubtlessly would mean talking money from rural counties and giving it to Clark County.