Editorial: State budget could use some belt tightening

The members of the Nevada Economic Forum met earlier this month and came up with a forecast for how much the total state general fund revenues will be for the next two years.

The Economic Forum was created by lawmakers in 1993. It is responsible for providing forecasts of revenues for each upcoming biennial budget period. The figures are binding on the governor and the Legislature in crafting a budget, so they don’t wildly overestimate potential revenue and cause a budget crisis when funds come up short.

The forum members reported that the past two-year’s revenues turned out to be $8.244 billion and the coming two-year period should generate 7.2 percent more funds or $8.835 billion, after application of all applicable tax credits, of which there are a number.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Brain Sandoval has already drafted a budget for the next biennium, which will be handed over to incoming Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the majority Democratic lawmakers, who take office in January. Of course, they all appear to anticipate spending every last dime of that $591 million windfall even though current inflation is running only 2.5 percent.

Much of the anticipated money is being targeted for expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare and various education spending schemes.

After the Economic Forum issued its forecast, Sisolak gave a statement to the press saying, “I am encouraged by how the state is performing. I look forward to reviewing the final forecast released by the Economic Forum and creating a roadmap to implement the priorities that matter to Nevadans. I am committed to building a bright future for our state and that starts with building a budget that funds the initiatives that will get us there.”

May we be so brazen as to suggest that taxpayers might appreciate an “initiative” that lets them keep a bit more of their paychecks. Or at the very least pour more of that anticipated-but-not-guaranteed revenue into the rainy day savings account for that time in the future when the outlook is not so rosy, because everyone knows that once government spends a certain amount of money it expects to continue to do so in perpetuity.

For the record, from 2011 to 2017 the state general fund budget grew by 32.3 percent, while inflation amounted to 7.9 percent.

Though we know we are whistling in the Democratic wind, we also suggest that the burdensome commerce tax passed in 2015 as part of Sandoval’s $1.5 billion tax hike be repealed. The tax was imposed even though the voters in November 2014 rejected a commerce tax at the ballot box by 79 percent to 21 percent. The commerce tax is expected to generate only $445 million in the coming biennium and could be covered by that extra $591 million in the projection.

Every Nevada business must file a commerce tax form with the state, even if the business owes no tax. For many, compliance costs exceed the taxes owed. That is a hidden tax on the state economy and retards job growth.

Lawmakers should think about the burden on taxpayers as well as the beneficiaries of their customarily spendthrift ways.

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: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching some of you may still be confounded by the question of just what to give that Nevada friend or family member. May we be so bold as to suggest a gift that endures — books about Nevada or by Nevadans. The choices are as varied as Nevada’s people and its landscapes. 

These can be found in your local bookstore and online from several book retailers in hardback, paperback and electronic versions.

A book that will open the reader to the wonders of Nevada and the Southwest is Deborah Wall’s expanded 2nd edition of “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Just in time for holiday giving, Range magazine has published another of its gorgeous coffee table books — “The Magnificent American West,” which features colorful, award-winning photographs along with the wit and witticisms of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.

At rangemagazine.com one can also find several other books about Nevada and the Western lifestyle, including collections of cowboy poetry and art such as “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West,” which include poems by Nevadan Waddie Mitchell.

Of course, no Nevadan’s library is complete without a copy of Twain’s “Roughing It,” which recounts his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel. 

To learn more about the truth-stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain,” which relates how Sam Clemens really came by his nom de plume.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

In a similar vein comes Robert Laxalt’s “Sweet Promised Land,” which reflects on Nevada’s formative years and his father’s visit to his native Basque homeland. 

 Sally Denton’s “Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” recounts the engineering feat that produced the landscape altering Hoover Dam.

The newest addition to the list of books by Nevadans, if not necessarily about Nevada, is so new it will not be available in print until March, but one may order it now and put a printout of the book cover under the tree. Longtime Nevada writer, editor, investigative journalist, essayist and shirt-tail historian A.D. Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era called, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” It looks at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist Vin Suprynowicz also has added fiction to his list of books. The latest is a science fiction, libertarian-leaning tale called “The Miskatonic Manuscript,” a follow-up to his “The Testament of James.” His non-fiction collections of essays include “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Ballad of Carl Drega.”

For a look at how Nevada corporations edged out the mob to take over the gaming racket, there is longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “Sharks in the Desert.” One might also peruse his books about gambling execs Steve Wynn and Bob Stupak and mob attorney-turned Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

We also recommend Colorado-based writer David Philipps attempt to answer the question about what to do about the West’s burgeoning wild horse population in his book “Wild Horse Country.” The book sweeps across a span of time and landscape as vast as the range of the wild horse, delving into views and suggestions from horse-huggers and horse-disparagers alike, turning more than a few colorful similes and metaphors along the journey.

To span the human history of Nevada, there is prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher’s retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.

May your friends and family appreciate you and your gifts.

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: Repeal of IRS deductions for state and local taxes unfair to Nevada

Now that Democrats — who have made a career out of demanding soak-the-rich taxes in order to redistribute it to the poor — are in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, one of their first priorities will be to provide a tax break for the rich — in certain Democrat-controlled states.

According to Forbes magazine and others, a top priority will be a repeal of the $10,000 cap on IRS deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) that was part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017.

According to the Tax Policy Center, three-quarters of any benefit from repealing the SALT deduction cap would go to households making $153,000 or more. The top 1 percent of households, those making $755,000 or more, would receive more than 56 percent of the benefit. The Center calculated repeal would cut federal tax revenues by $620 billion over the coming decade.

The Tax Foundation says 88 percent of the benefits of a repeal would flow to those making more than $100,000 a year.

So a repeal benefits the rich, but just the rich in certain states.

Nevadans — along with residents of New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota and Alaska — used to be able to deduct about 1 percent or less of their adjusted gross income, while those who live in New York, Maryland, D.C. and California could deduct more than 5 percent.

Nearly one-third of the additional tax dollars generated by the SALT cap comes from Californians and New Yorkers, both heavily Democratic states.

Using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, the latest available, you find Californians who filed for state and local income tax deductions claimed deductions of $10,700 per return.

Nevadans who filed for the state and local sales tax deduction claimed only $1,430 per return.

Calculated on a per capita basis, Californians claimed $2,116 in federal income tax deductions, while Nevadans claimed only $166 per person for sales tax deductions.

Tax fairness? Not hardly.

Sounds like Nevadans would again be paying a disproportionately higher proportion of federal taxes if the SALT cap is repealed.

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: Coming legislative session could resurrect some awful bills

With the election of Democratic majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate, many fear that, as Yogi Berra once said, it’s going to be deja vu all over again.

The 2019 session of the Legislature could resurrect many of the bills that Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed in 2017 — 41 in all, and he is considered a moderate Republican — because this time around the governor wielding the veto pen, or not, will be Democrat Steve Sisolak.

Take 2017’s Assembly Bill 154, which was sponsored by a raft of Democrats. But for Sandoval’s veto, the bill would have rolled back the minor headway made just two years earlier to cut the cost of public works. It would raise the cost of construction of university and public school buildings by reimposing the so-called prevailing wage on more projects.

Prevailing wage laws require that workers on public construction jobs to 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.

In 2000, a study by the Las Vegas newspaper found the prevailing wage law cost taxpayers about $2.3 million extra on every new public high school being built in Clark County.

Then there is Senate Bill 106, which would have raised the minimum wage employers must pay workers. Currently the minimum is $7.25 and hour for workers whose benefits include health insurance and $8.25 for those who do not.

SB106 would have raised that by 75 cents a year until it reached $11 an hour for the insured and $12 for the uninsured. Sisolak has supported incremental increases in the minimum wage, though study after study has shown such requirements eliminate jobs and cause reduced hours for the remaining workers.

A 2017 University of Washington study of Seattle’s minimum wage, which was raised to $13 an hour, found the increase boosted hourly earnings in the jobs affected by a paltry 3 percent, and reduced hours worked by 9 percent. They also found the city would have had 5,000 more jobs if the minimum wages had not been increased.

Assembly Bill 374 from 2017 would have allowed any Nevadan to purchase Medicaid-like health insurance through the state exchange even if they are not eligible for Medicaid. In his veto message Sandoval said the measure would have created uncertainty in an already fragile health care market. He said the bill could have caused longer waits for care and fewer available doctors.

Senate Bill 196 would have required employers with at least 25 employees to provide workers with paid sick leave. Sandoval expressed concerns about the impact on small businesses.

Senate Bill 384 would have done legislatively what the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System has been trying unsuccessfully to get the courts to do for years. It would have declared all information about state and local government retirees confidential under the law.

Just this past month the Nevada Supreme Court, in a case brought by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, declared the names and pension amounts of retired public employees are indeed public records under the current law.

Nevada’s public employee pensions are the richest in the nation — $64,000 a year or more than $1.3 million in lifetime benefits, and that doesn’t include public-safety workers, such as firefighters and police, who can retire earlier and generally have higher salaries, especially in Nevada. Compare this to the average annual Social Security benefit of $16,000.

According to NPRI’s transparentnevada.com, in 2015 there were more than 1,500 Nevada state and local retirees receiving annual pensions in excess of $100,000. A revival of SB384 would keep that a secret from those whose taxes cover the expense.

Keep your eyes on this upcoming session in Carson City. It could bode very poorly for employers, workers and taxpayers.

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 building (R-J pix)

Saudi Arabia may not deserve ‘steadfast partner’ status

President Trump has pledged to remain a “steadfast partner” with Saudi Arabia, according to The Wall Street Journal, despite the fact U.S. intelligence has opined that such things as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would not likely have happened without the knowledge and consent of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That’s just how things work there, they say.

That’s not evidence or proof. It is, shall we say, circumstantial.

But at some point that and other reports out of Saudi Arabia should call for a downgrading of the status from steadfast to something less.

Take for instance another report from WSJ today that alleges least at eight of the 18 women’s-rights activists jailed by the Saudis have been tortured, some subjected to electric shocks and lashings.

Don’t forget what’s happening in Yemen’s civil war and the role of Saudis there.

Trump’s statement said intelligence agencies “continue to assess all information,” but said: “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

That is hardly grounds for steadfast.

The U.S. does need to maintain strong defense and economic partners in that turbulent part of the world, but at what cost to our standing as a principled defender of human rights and civil and moral behavior?

The circumstantial evidence is mounting that the de facto Saudi leader is not to be trusted nor embraced.

Trump and Saudi prince. (Getty Images via WSJ)

 

 

Editorial: Coming Legislature likely to favor tax hikes

Ramirez cartoon

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” is often attributed to Mark Twain. Though the quote is most likely apocryphal, its veracity is likely to be affirmed when Nevada’s newly elected lawmakers gather in early 2019 in Carson City.

The voters, primarily in the urban counties of Clark and Washoe, have loaded up the Legislature with Democrats — a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly and one shy of a supermajority in the state Senate. And that seat could swing to the Democrats if a planned recount in a district in Clark County changes the outcome. The Republican candidate won the seat by a razor-thin 28 votes.

That supermajority is significant because it takes two-thirds of each wing of the legislative building to pass any tax increase. This is due to a constitutional amendment known as the Tax Restraint Initiative pushed by former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and approved by voters in 1994 and 1996.

Recent legislative sessions have proven that the Democrats are salivating for higher taxes to satiate their public union enablers in state and local governments and the public education system.

To add to the level of jeopardy, Nevada has elected a Democratic governor, former Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who is unlikely to wield a veto pen on any tax hikes that reach his desk. 

In an interview shortly after the election, Sisolak said, “I’ve committed, we’re not going to be raising taxes. That’s not my intent,” saying existing funds could be reallocated. But earlier in the campaign he told an interviewer, “One of the ways we’re going to have to pay for it, and people don’t want to hear it, is property taxes.” He also has a track record of backing tax increases. He was a key backer of spending tax money to build a professional football stadium in Las Vegas for a billionaire team owner.

On top of that, the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate and can vote in the case of a tie is Democrat Kate Marshall. Additionally, the state treasurer, controller and attorney general are all Democrats. 

One of the more likely targets will be our property taxes. Currently the state imposes a cap on annual property tax increases — 3 percent for homes and 8 percent for businesses. There has been talk of changing that, as well as eliminating or altering the depreciation on property assessments currently allowed by law. Such changes could cause property taxes to double or even triple in some cases.

Sales taxes hikes, adjustments to the Commerce Tax on businesses, as well as various fees are likely to be on the table.

Democrats are also likely to be open to proposals to allow state public employees to unionize just like local government public workers, who currently are paid 46 percent more than those in the private sector in Nevada — 57 percent more when generous retirement benefits and paid leave are accounted for. Guess who would pay for that.

There is also discussion about ending Nevada’s status as a right-to-work state, which would devastate small businesses.

Additionally, Sisolak and many of the incumbent and newly elected Democrats have expressed a desire to increase the minimum wage incrementally toward $15 and hour, which also would cripple many small businesses and drive some from the state. 

Keep your phones and your pens handy in the coming months. You’ll want to use them to let our representatives in Carson City know what we think of these potential legislative efforts.

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: Should each county get a single state senator?

 

Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea is the District 19 incumbent and was not up for re-election this year.

The blue Clark County tail wagged the red Nevada dog in this past week’s election.

Election results show rural and urban Nevada are of two vastly different states of mind.

For example, in the race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Jacky Rosen carried only Clark and Washoe counties, while Republican incumbent Dean Heller won every other county handily. In the more heavily unionized, redistribution-favoring and thus Democrat-leaning Clark and Washoe, Rosen gleaned 55 and 50 percent of the votes, respectively. Whereas, for example, in Elko County Heller netted 76 percent of the vote, 72 percent in White Pine, 79 percent in Lincoln, 75 percent in Esmeralda, 63 percent in Storey, 72 percent in Churchill, 79 percent in Lincoln and a whopping 84 percent in tiny Eureka. Quite a spectrum shift.

The state’s only Republican representative in Washington now will be Mark Amodei, whose 2nd Congressional District covers the northern half of the state and excludes Clark. Amodei won in every county and his Democratic opponent only came within spitting distance in Washoe and Carson City. Amodei took Elko with 80 percent of the vote, Humboldt with 79 percent and Lander with 82 percent, for example.

Republican Cresent Hardy won in every county in the 4th Congressional District in the southern half of the state except Clark, while the other two Congressional Districts are solely in Clark and were easily won by Democrats.

Democrat Steven Horsford won the 4th District seat by pulling 52 percent of the total vote by netting 56 percent in the more populous Clark. Hardy netted 73 percent of White Pine’s votes, 80 percent of Lincoln’s votes, 74 percent of Lyon’s, 57 percent of Mineral’s and 65 percent of Lyon’s.

In the statewide races for constitutional offices the numbers broke down largely the same.

In the race for governor, Democrat Steve Sisolak won handily in Clark and eked out a victory in Washoe, while Republican Adam Laxalt won almost every other county by at least 2-to-1. The results were similar in the race for lieutenant governor.

Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske edged out 30-year-old inexperienced Democrat Nelson Araujo by less than 1 percentage point, though she won handily in ever county except, you guessed it, Clark.

In the race for attorney general, Republican Wes Duncan won in every county, repeat after me, except Clark. Likewise for Republican treasurer candidate Bob Beers, while incumbent Republican Controller Ron Knecht lost only in Clark and Washoe. Again, in mosts cases the margins in rural counties exceeded 2-to-1 for the Republican.

The Democrats in the state Assembly are all from Clark and Washoe. The rest of the state picked Republicans. Due to the overwhelming population of Clark and Washoe, there is now a supermajority of Democrats — 29 out of 42.

The state Senate is also all red except for Clark and Washoe. The 13 Democrats to eight Republicans leaves the Democrats one seat short of a supermajority. That could happen if a planned recount changes the outcome in a district in Clark in which the Republican won by 28 ballots.

It takes a supermajority in both the Assembly and Senate to pass tax increases, thanks to an initiative pushed through by former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Now, if the Democrats can wail about how unfair it is that the 2016 presidential election was determined by the Electoral College — in which each state gets a vote for each representative in Congress, which is determined by population, and each state gets two votes for each senator no matter population — and not by popular vote, which, yes, Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump won, it seems only fair that we be allowed to deign to suggest that Nevada could change its governing bodies to more closing match the federal system created by the Founders.

We could have an Assembly in which representatives are seated from districts of approximately equal population and a state Senate with a single representative from each county. The whole purpose of the U.S. Senate is to assure smaller states are not run over roughshod by more populous states.

So why should the smaller Nevada counties with differing philosophies and priorities and issues be virtually shut out of the decision making process?

Of course, the chances of that ever happening is almost certainly nil. So, consider this a wee Jeremiadic cry from the desert and a whisper in the ears of the near-supermajority to give some slack for the smaller rural counties. Seems only fair. And we know Democrats are sticklers for fairness.

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.

Historic update from Wikipedia:

In 1919 the Senate started a practice called “Little Federalism,” where each county received one member of the Nevada Senate regardless of population of said county. This set the Senate membership at seventeen which lasted until 1965-1967. The Supreme Court of the United States issued the opinion in Baker v. Carr in 1962 which found that the redistricting of state legislative districts are not a political questions, and thus is justiciable by the federal courts. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Reynolds v. Sims and struck down state senate inequality, basing their decision on the principle of “one person, one vote.” With those two cases being decided on a national level, Nevada Assemblywoman Flora Dungan and Las Vegas resident Clare W. Woodbury, M.D. filed suit in 1965 with the Nevada District Court arguing that Nevada’s Senate districts violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and lacked of fair representation and proportional districts. At the time, less than 8 percent of the population of the State of Nevada controlled more than 50 percent of the Senate. The District Court found that both the Senate and the Assembly apportionment laws were “invidiously discriminatory, being based upon no constitutionally valid policy.[7]” It was ordered that Governor Grant Sawyer call a Special Session to submit a constitutionally valid reapportionment plan.[8] The 11th Special Session lasted from October 25, 1965 through November 13, 1965 and a plan was adopted to increase the size of the Senate from 17 to 20.