Costly legal fight over taxes was unnecessary

It was a senseless and futile gesture, but our Democratic lawmakers and governor were just the ones to do it.

Despite the fact Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996 amended the state Constitution to declare “an affirmative vote of not fewer than two-thirds of the members elected to each House is necessary to pass a bill or joint resolution which creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form,” the 21-member state Senate approved the extension of taxes and fees that were supposed to be curbed with a 13-8 vote, one vote short of the constitutionally mandated two-thirds. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the tax extensions into law.

The eight Republican senators who voted against the tax extensions and three companies that would have to pay the higher taxes have sued in district court in Carson City, asking the court for a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against enactment of the laws.

The Democrats charged ahead with tax and fee extensions after their compliant Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), the lawmakers’ lawyers, issued an opinion that a two-thirds vote was not necessary since the taxes were not being “raised” but merely allowed to continue at a rate that was scheduled to be reduced, paying no heed to the fact the bills in question “generate” public revenue. Asked nearly the same question in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the LCB said a two-thirds vote was necessary.

When Republicans first threatened to sue, Sisolak confidently stated, “We’ve got legal opinion from LCB that, you know, a simple majority is what’s needed. I’ve been in government for 20 some-odd years, and if you don’t trust your attorneys, you’ve got a problem. So I’m confident that the attorneys gave us a good opinion. We’ll move forward from there.”

After the suit was actually filed, a somewhat less assured Sisolak was quoted by the press as demurring, “I remain absolutely committed to taking action if necessary following the court’s decision to ensure our schools continue to receive the total amount of funding approved by the Legislature for the … biennium.”

According to the governor’s executive budget at the end of that biennium there is expected to be a rainy day fund balance of $415.2 million, more than enough to cover the $98 million that the extension of the modified business tax rate and the $7 million that the $1 Department of Motor Vehicles technology fee extension are expected to generate.

The modified business tax extension is scheduled to begin being collected on Oct. 1 and the technology fee was set to end on July 1, 2020.

So, what was the point in pushing the constitution-ignoring legislation?

Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer said in a statement released to the media after the suit was filed, “We have checks and balances for a reason and eroding the two-thirds requirement is an unprecedented disregard for the constitution and creates a dangerous precedent. While there was ample money to fund education and other vital programs, Sisolak and (Senate Democratic Leader Nicole) Cannizzaro acted recklessly and their behavior created an unnecessary constitutional crisis at the expense of over 23,000 small business in Nevada.”

The lawsuit itself makes abundantly clear the stakes involved here: “This action involves an issue of of significant public and statewide importance as it seeks to uphold and protect the constitutional amendment proposed by citizen ballot initiative adopted and overwhelmingly approved by Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996. As provided in Article 1, Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution, political power is inherent in the people. Government only has power from the consent of the governed, and the residents and citizens of the State of Nevada twice voted strongly in favor of amending the Nevada Constitution to add the two-thirds requirement, and the two-thirds requirement has, at least prior to 2019, been applied consistently to legislative bills extending sunsets by the Nevada Legislature.”

The Republican senators and three companies, of course, are asking for recovery of reasonable attorney fees and costs. So, the taxpayers are likely to get stuck with all the costs from both sides.

The suit further noted that lawmakers “had enough money to fund the State’s budget without the public revenues created, generated or increased as a result of the changes to the payroll tax …”

So the passage with less than two-thirds votes was senseless, and, once the courts correctly rule that a two-thirds vote was constitutionally necessary, it will have been futile.

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.

Nevada Legislature

Newspaper column: Energy Department catches possible error, then catches hell

Umbrage has been duly taken.

On the afternoon of July 3 Energy Department Deputy Secretary Daniel Brouillette called Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to let him know the department may have been mistakenly shipping unstable nuclear material to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) monthly for a dozen years.

Mixed low-level radioactive waste — which must be protected from moisture when disposed — may have been mislabeled as merely low-level radioactive waste, which includes such things as rags, papers, filters, equipment, discarded protective clothing and construction debris and need not be protected from moisture. Further, the governor was told the waste might include “reactive” material, which could explode or release toxic fumes if exposed to water.

In a subsequent briefing this past week, Sisolak was told the department had not yet confirmed any of the waste was indeed reactive and the mislabeled shipments from the agency’s Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., had only been coming to Nevada since 2013 and involved only 32 containers.

Though Energy Secretary Rick Perry did not take office until his 2017 appointment by Republican President Donald Trump and his agency caught the apparent error, suspended further shipments and informed Nevada public officials of the possible error, Nevada Democratic office holders unleashed a fusillade of fury, including Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford calling for Perry to resign.

“I am outraged and shocked to hear about the Department of Energy’s repeated transgressions on the people of Nevada,” Horsford said in a statement. “Today we found out that, against the will and consent of Nevadans, the Department of Energy has been covertly shipping dangerous radioactive waste into our state.”

He concluded, “Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus blustered, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty. For decades, the DOE has been an untrustworthy partner and this latest round of illegal shipments is truly a new low. I’m grateful that Governor Sisolak continues to stand up for Nevada and refuses to let this violation of the law go unchallenged.”

Democratic Rep. Susie Lee fulminated, “The continued carelessness with our safety is exactly the concern of every Nevadan who is told that we should welcome the storage of nuclear waste in our own backyard. But let me be clear: we’re not just Nevadans, we are Americans, and it’s clear that the Department of Energy does not take Americans’ health, safety, or security into consideration before making decisions.”

In a joint statement Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen decried, “Last week, we were contacted by the Department of Energy and made aware of the situation. As a result, along with Governor Sisolak we’ve taken immediate action and sent a letter demanding answers from Secretary Perry, and scheduled an immediate classified briefing to ensure there is accountability and oversight on behalf of the State of Nevada. Yet again, the DOE has violated its mission, broken Nevadans’ trust and failed to follow its own compliance procedures.”

Gov. Sisolak released a statement after this past week’s briefing by Energy officials  saying, “I was beyond disappointed to learn of problems related to shipments of low-level radioactive waste from the DOE’s Y-12 facility to Nevada. … While we appreciate the courtesy of the in-person briefing, we will continue to do everything in the state’s power to hold them accountable, ensure there is a plan to fix this problem and prevent it from occurring again, and above all else, protect the health and safety of Nevadans.”

The errors apparently occurred for four years of the Obama administration without anyone catching it, but the agency that caught the error and reported it is dishonest, careless, incompetent and to blame.

The Energy Department released a statement to the media saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six-year period.” Three of those years were during the previous Democratic administration, by the way.

Umbrage always seems to be taken only when the offended ones are of a different political party and, especially when the information can be used to bludgeon attempts to dispose of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

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.

NNSS Area 5 storage area (file pix)

 

Newspaper column: Expect long lines come Election Day 2020

Democracy is a chaotic endeavor. Nevada lawmakers have made it more so.

Expect long lines and delayed results come the next Election Day.

Assembly Bill 345, which passed on a party line vote with Democrats favoring and Republicans opposed, will allow people to register to vote on the same day of an election rather than several weeks earlier. This will inevitably mean much longer lines on Election Day and during early voting and require as much as 10 days for election results to be tabulated, because votes cast on Election Day and absentee ballots mailed on Election Day will have to be counted and verified.

It will also cost millions of dollars to implement and might not be fully rolled out in time for the 2020 elections, officials warned. It will require hiring thousands more poll workers. Lawmakers were undeterred by the merely impossible.

Wayne Thorley, deputy Nevada secretary of state in charge of elections, warned lawmakers implementing the changes in time for the 2020 election would be “extremely difficult if not impossible,” because it takes two years to make such changes, according to a Las Vegas newspaper account.

Only 17 states and the District of Columbia now have same-day registration.

One argument for this scheme is that it will greatly increase participation in the democratic process. An argument against it is that it will greatly increase participation by the lazy and the uninformed. Another argument is that same-day voter registration is susceptible to voter fraud.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, calls same-day voter registration a prescription for fraud and says it does almost nothing to increase voter participation.

“Allowing a voter to both register and vote on Election Day makes it nearly impossible to prevent duplicate votes in different areas or to verify the accuracy of any information provided by a voter,” von Spakovsky writes.

Further, the new law actually eliminates requirements for informing the public prior to elections. Existing law requires clerks to publish in a newspaper of general circulation the names of candidates and the offices they are seeking. AB345 removes that requirement.

Current law also requires publication of any statewide ballot measure along with an explanation, as well as arguments, rebuttals and fiscal notes. AB345 removes that requirement.

The Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City recently published a story quoting public officials as reaffirming the potential problems with the changes in election law.

Carson City Clerk Recorder Aubrey Rowlatt said that in smaller counties, where voters are used to getting to a voting machine within minutes of arrival at the polls and having final results within two hours of the polls closing, the lines will be longer and the results delayed for days.

“There are going to be lines,” she said. “There are going to be late election results.”

Thorley repeated to the newspaper the issues he had raised earlier before lawmakers. “The biggest concern is the delay in election results and educating the public about that,” he told the newspaper.

He warned that changes between election night counts and the final counts more than a week later can lead to accusations of fraud.

Thorley noted, “AB345 allows absentee ballots to be counted after election day so any ballot postmarked by election day but received up to seven days after the election will be counted.”

He also said election officials will have to confirm that people don’t go hopping from county to county registering to vote.

Thorley said the Legislature gave him about a half-million dollars to hire three staffers to set up a process for verifying voter registrations electronically, because doing so by hand would be impossible.

The story ends with Thorley saying he tried to convince lawmakers to give him until the 2022 elections to implement the new law, but Democratic leaders said they wanted it in place by 2020 because of the importance of that election, which is a presidential one. Democrats will stop at nothing in their quest to oust President Trump.

“We will make it work,” Rowlatt was quoted as saying. “It’s just going to be painful so I would just ask for a lot of patience because it’s not going to be fast.”

Remember which lawmakers voted for those long lines come Election Day, as you inch your way toward the voting booth, knowing you may not learn of the outcome for another week to 10 days.

Democracy need not be this chaotic just to make it more convenient for laggards to vote for Democrats.

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.

Umbrage will be taken when the blame can be placed on the other political party

Let me get this straight.

The Energy Department may have been mistakenly shipping unstable nuclear material to the Nevada National Security Site since 2013, but the guy who took office in 2017 and whose agency caught the apparent error, suspended further shipments and informed Nevada public officials of the possible error is to blame and should resign.

The morning newspaper quotes Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford calling for Energy Secretary Rick Perry to resign and Democratic Rep. Dina Titus blustering, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty.”

Let’s see, the errors apparently occurred for four years of the Obama administration without anyone catching it, but the agency that caught the error and reported it is dishonest and to blame.

The paper quotes a Horsford statement as saying, “Secretary Perry has repeatedly disrespected the people of Nevada and eroded the public trust in his ability to abide by established rules for waste disposal. His failure to disclose these actions amount to their lying to a federal judge, our Nevada congressional delegation and our state’s governor repeatedly about his agency’s activities in our state. Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”

The Energy Department was supposed to only ship low-level radioactive waste from Oak Ridge, Tenn., to N2S2, but nine shipments may have included unstable “reactive” nuclear material mislabeled as low-level waste.

The newspaper further quotes a letter fired off to the Energy secretary by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, all Democrats, saying, “These egregious acts — whether acts of negligence or indicative of something else — are unconscionable and have potentially put the health and safety of Nevadans and our environment at unacceptable risk, including the employees of NNSS and the communities in Nevada and along the transportation routes of this material to NNSS.”

But an Energy Deparment statement was quoted as saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six-year period.” Four of those years during the previous Democratic administration, by the way.

Umbrage always seems to be taken only when the offended ones are of a different political party.

R-J graphic

Editorial: Public worker contracts should be negotiated in the open

Despite being duly warned, Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers and Democratic governor this past legislative session lit the fuse on a huge budget bomb — passing and signing into law Senate Bill 135, which gives state public employees the right to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

A study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimates this unionization could in two decades increase the cost of state public employees as much as $1.75 billion a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.

Adding insult to injury, SB135 incorporates language similar to that found in the 1969 law allowing local government employees to collectively bargain. SB135 specifies that “certain meetings convened for the purpose of collective bargaining and resolving disputes relating to collective bargaining are exempt from the provisions of existing law requiring open and public meetings of public bodies.”

Not a single Republican voted for SB135, only the union-backed Democrats. 

Thus the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill for whatever is doled out to their employees will be left in the dark about how the negotiations are conducted. We will not be able to see whether the government managers have properly shouldered the public’s fiduciary interests and be able to decide at the next election whether to oust those who appointed them. 

Nevada’s Open Meeting Law states, “In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

This is to allow the voters/taxpayers the ability to judge the actions of those conducting their business.

Those voters/taxpayers are already getting the short end of the stick. Among the 50 states, Nevada local government workers rank fifth highest in pay, state public workers, even without collective bargaining, rank 10th, while private-sector workers rank 47th.

And Democrats argued that giving state public employees collective bargaining rights is only “fair.” Fair to whom?

In the private sector, union negotiators have to be mindful that demanding too much of an employer could drive the employer out of business and cost the jobs of union members and union negotiators. This is not the case with government. There is always more of other people’s money. 

That is why those whose ox is being gored should be allowed to see the carnage as it happens. 

The Las Vegas newspaper, in a recent editorial on this subject, quotes Chris Cargill of the Washington Policy Center as saying, “The public should always have the right to know what trade-offs and promises led to final and binding collective bargaining agreements. Especially when those agreements lock into place millions and sometimes billions of dollars of annual taxpayer spending.”

According to the Commonwealth Foundation of Pennsylvania, a number of states require at least some public worker collective bargaining contract negotiations to be open to the public at some point — Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.

We call on lawmakers to remedy this shortchanging of the voters who elected them. Not only should the state public worker bargaining be conducted in the open but also the local government worker bargaining. It is only “fair.”

In fact, Gov. Steve Sisolak, who has frequently tried to embrace the mantle of transparency, could spend a few of our bucks and call those lawmakers into a special session to remedy this glaring blindering of his constituents. 

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.

Editorial: Nevada should reject 50 percent renewable energy

Are Nevada voters and lawmakers falling for a scam?

In an article titled “Solar Power to Hit the Wall in Nevada” in “American Thinker” this past week, retired engineer Norman Rogers says we are.

In November, Nevada voters approved by nearly 60 percent a constitutional amendment that would require 50 percent of the electricity consumed in the state to come from renewable energy sources by 2030. This past legislative session lawmakers passed a law requiring the same thing and Gov. Steve Sisolak promptly signed it.

“Solar power and wind power are loved by the left, but have the serious problem of erratic delivery of power,” Rogers writes. “Wind dominates solar except in places with poor wind and good sunshine, such as Nevada, where I live. In states where a lot of solar has been installed, such as California and Nevada, solar is running into a wall that is related to the time delivery of solar power versus when the electrical grid’s need for power.”

Currently, according to Rogers, about 10 percent of Nevada’s electricity comes from solar, 10 percent from geothermal and the rest from natural gas and imports from other states.

Rogers explains that solar installations are approximately 70 percent subsidized by government. As a consequence, solar power that really costs $70 to $80 per megawatt-hour, can sell for as little as $25 to $30 per megawatt-hour due to the subsidies. If a battery system is added, the energy cost is likely to balloon to $80 or $90 per megawatt-hour. Natural gas power costs about $20 per megawatt-hour, according to Rogers.

Though the self-styled environmentalists demand more green energy many are balking at this project, saying it is too large, too close to wilderness and would damage wildlife and the environment.

A 2013 study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, which was commissioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, estimated the current Nevada renewables requirement of 25 percent by 2025 could cost Nevada between 590 and 3,070 jobs by 2025. This is because power bills would increase from somewhere around 2 percent to nearly 11 percent. While the residential power user’s bill might increase anywhere between $20 and $130 a year, an industrial ratepayer could expect power bills to increase from nearly $7,000 to more than $47,000 a year — costs that would be passed on to consumers. Imagine what doubling the renewables would do.

Rogers also notes that solar power is an expensive way to reduce carbon dioxide, costing about $140 per metric ton. The Obama administration estimated the social cost of carbon to be only $50 per metric ton.

On his website NevadaSolarScam.com, Rogers writes, “Solar energy works fine for remote cabins and weather stations in the mountains. For supplying the massive needs of modern society, it is quite useless – a scam. Solar is expensive. It can’t be counted to perform when it is needed. Solar stops when a cloud goes in front of the sun. It goes to sleep every night. In sunbaked Las Vegas, demand for electricity peaks on summer evenings, just as solar is putting on its pajamas.”

Rogers concluded his “Thinker” article by writing, “The bottom line is that solar is not a good method of supplying electricity and it is not a good method for reducing CO2 emissions. It keeps going because the promoters constantly lie and spread propaganda. They often brag about cheap solar purchase contracts without mentioning the huge subsidies and the state mandates that force utilities to buy solar (and wind).”

When that constitutional amendment again appears on the ballot next year, Nevada voters should wise up and reject it, sending a message to lawmakers to repeal the 50 percent renewable requirement before it costs a lot of jobs and money.

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.

Editorial: Is minimum wage hike constitutional?

This past week Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 456 into law fulfilling a promise to raise the minimum wage in Nevada.

AB456 raises the minimum wage 75 cents per hour each year as it climbs from the current $7.25 per hour for those receiving company health insurance and $8.25 for those not insured until it reaches $11 or $12 per hour in 2024.

“Keeping working Nevadans stuck in a 10-year-old minimum wage erodes the real value and purchasing power of the wages of hardworking Nevadans,” Sisolak was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas newspaper before signing the bill. “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.”

Yet, 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 lost $125 a month because the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour.

Further, a recent study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research found “robust evidence that minimum wage hikes increase property crime arrests among teenagers and young adults ages 16- to-24, a population for whom minimum wages are likely to bind.”

The study projects that raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour nationally would result in approximately 231,000 additional property crimes, costing the nation $1.3 billion. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would generate more than 410,000 additional property crimes and $2.4 billion per year in additional crime costs.

“We conclude that increasing the minimum wage will at best be ineffective at deterring crime and at worst will have unintended consequences that increase property crime among young adults,” the study authors concluded.

Additionally, raising the minimum wage will increase the cost of goods to 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. The governor just signed a bill increasing the minimum wage in Nevada by 45 percent in five years.

But don’t start spending that minimum wage check just yet. There is a possibility it could be legally challenged.

In 2006 the minimum wage and how it would be raised was established by Nevada voters through a constitutional amendment. Arguably, it would take another constitutional amendment to change that, not a mere change in law.

The amendment set the minimum wage at $5.15 for employees with health insurance and $6.15 for those without. It dictates that raises would match any increase in the federal minimum wage or increase in the consumer price index, whichever is greater, though any CPI increase would be limited to 3 percent. AB456, in the first year, amounts to an increase of 9 percent for the insured and more than 10 percent for uninsured.

The constitutional amendment states how the minimum wage is to be raised and that does not include permission for the lawmakers to raise it by some other means.

In fact, in 2015 the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), the lawmakers’ lawyers, opined, “Because provisions governing the minimum wage rate are included in the Constitution, any changes to the minimum wage provisions require a constitutional amendment.”

The ever-compliant LCB reversed that opinion in 2017.

In the law there is a Latin maxim that states “expressio unius est exclusio alterius,” which means the expression of one thing is the exclusion of the other.

So, if the Constitution dictates just how the minimum wage is to be increased, lawmakers may not cherry pick another means to do so.

This should end up in court.

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.