Even a few Democrats grasp the consequences of high taxes

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his state has a $2.3 billion budget deficit, and he blames the revenue shortfall on changes in federal income tax law that limits the amount of state and local taxes that may be deducted, according to North Country Public Radio.

Cuomo and other Democrats from high tax states would like the law repealed, but, as we told you earlier, that would be unfair to low tax states like Nevada. 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. This means Nevadans bear a proportionately higher federal tax burden than New Yorkers.

The radio station notes that many Democrats in the New York Legislature raising the taxes of the state’s richest residents, but Cuomo seems to have finally realized what happens when you do that.

“This is the flip side,” Cuomo said. “Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich. The rich leave, and now what do you do?”

As we explained less than a month ago, this is called voting with your feet, and it is not a new phenomenon.

In an article in The Wall Street Journal in 2009 under the headline, “Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich,” economist Arthur Laffer and WSJ economics writer Stephen Moore updated previous studies and found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day of the year relocated from the nine highest income-tax states — such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio — mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax — including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas.

Laffer and Moore determined that over that period of time the no-income tax states created 89 percent more jobs and had 32 percent faster personal income growth than the high-tax states.

Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then, Mr. Cuomo.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers budget address.


How I got out of jury duty without really trying

I was called to jury duty recently and dutifully showed up early Monday morning for a day of tedious and repetitive questions during voir dire, which a friend of mine swears is French for jury tampering.

It was a lawsuit seeking damages over a car accident. The plaintiff’s attorney asked such inane questions as: What are you passionate about? There were responses about golf and sports betting and teaching and what not. I told him: The First Amendment and the public’s right to know, which set him back a bit. When he augered in, I explained that I’d been in journalism for decades and still freelanced a bit.

I unfortunately managed to survive the first day and returned for the second and cooled my heels with the other potential jurors for more than an hour as the wheels of justice ground to a halt behind closed doors.

Then the attorney got around to asking more pertinent questions about the jurors’ responsibility. He explained that in criminal cases the jury verdict must be beyond a reasonable doubt, but a jury in a civil case should award damages based on a preponderance of evidence, which he explained meant that damages should be awarded if 50.1 percent of the evidence favored such a verdict.

When he asked if anyone had a problem with that, I dutifully raised my hand. When asked, I said I would never publish a story if I knew there was a 50 percent chance it was wrong. I did not think that was what preponderance meant in the first place. A decision to wrest money away from one person to give to another on the basis of only 50.1 percent of evidence favoring it seemed tantamount to flipping a coin. I explained my decision-making process did not work that way and I could not imagine how 50.1 percent of a winning argument could be persuasive. The difference in the scales of justice is imperceptible.

I came close to saying that if that was what the law really said the law is a ass, but I thought better of it, suspecting the Dickens quote might not sit too well and just might get my ass in trouble.

A few minutes later I was kindly invited to hie my principled ass home.





Editorial: Universal public service has constitutional flaw

For the past year a national commission has been studying the issue of whether all young Americans should be required to perform public service — either military or some form of civilian service — and whether women should be required to register for the draft as men are currently required to do, even though the draft has not been used since 1973.

The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is chaired by former Nevada Congressman, emergency room physician and Army Reserve Brig Gen. Joe Heck. He was interviewed on NPR public radio this past week about the status of the commission’s endeavors.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, a commission was tasked to holistically and comprehensively review the Selective Service system along with Military, National and Public Service. It is truly an historic opportunity,” Heck said on the air.

On the topic of whether women should register for the draft, he said, “People have very definitive opinions on this issue. It’s not like when you ask the question, they have to take a moment to think about it. It’s a visceral response. It’s either, yes, they should have to register, it’s a matter of equality — or no, they should not have to register because women hold a special role in American society. I mean, that’s what it basically comes down to. I don’t think there are many people that are on the fence when it comes to deciding whether or not women should have to register.”

Heck said the commission has not yet come to a decision on this aspect of the commission’s mission.

But beyond the draft, Heck signaled a desire to require universal service of some sort, “Our goal is that there should be a universal expectation of service, that instead of the person serving being the odd person, it’s the person who doesn’t serve is the odd person. So that within a generation or two, every American is inspired and eager to serve.”

Fourteen more public hearings are planned, with a final report and recommendations due in a year.

There might be one thing the commission should take into consideration before making its final recommendations. That would be the 13th Amendment. Passed after the Civil War, that amendment states categorically: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Involuntary servitude.

In fact the 13th Amendment was used during World War I — ineffectively as it turned out — to argue against conscription itself as involuntary servitude.

Charles Schenck was convicted under the 1917 Espionage Act for distributing pamphlets urging resistance to the Selective Service Act. The pamphlet on its first page quoted the 13th Amendment.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his 1919 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that was unanimously supported by the court: “In impassioned language, it intimated that conscription was despotism in its worst form, and a monstrous wrong against humanity in the interest of Wall Street’s chosen few. It said ‘Do not submit to intimidation,’ but in form, at least, confined itself to peaceful measures such as a petition for the repeal of the act. The other and later printed side of the sheet was headed ‘Assert Your Rights.’ It stated reasons for alleging that anyone violated the Constitution when he refused to recognize ‘your right to assert your opposition to the draft,’ and went on ‘If you do not assert and support your rights, you are helping to deny or disparage rights which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain.’”

Holmes famously declared this rhetoric was a “clear and present danger” and was tantamount to “falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

The Espionage Act of 1917 is still on the books, but so is the 13th Amendment. Mandatory public service does appear to be a lot like involuntary servitude. Voluntary service, of course, should be encouraged.

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: 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.

Marsy’s Law already being used to hide public information

That didn’t take long.

We asked in an editorial published shortly before the November election whether the constitutional amendment on the ballot in Nevada and other states — known as Marsy’s Law and sold as a victim rights measure — could prevent the release of names of crime victims and crime reports. “It does require respect for the victim’s privacy after all,” we noted.

The Associated Press is reporting that the police chief in Sebring, Fla., is refusing to release the names of some of the five women killed in

a bank recently. The chief noted that the “Marsy’s Law” amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in November allows crime victims to prevent the disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass them or their families.

The AP account quotes Barbara Petersen of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation as asking the logical question, “How do we hold law enforcement accountable? Are we going to start having secret trials, crime victims testifying behind curtains?”

The ACLU of Nevada opposed Marsy’s Law for this very reason, saying that granting victims constitutional rights equal to the accused undermines the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments, which are meant to limit the power of government. It “undermines the presumption of innocence by allowing victims to be involved in procedural processes prior to conviction,” the ACLU argued.

The “rights” created under Nevada’s version of Marsy’s Law include the right to refuse an interview or deposition request, unless under court order, and to set reasonable conditions on the conduct of any such interview. This directly interferes with the accused-but-not-yet-convicted person’s Sixth Amendment Right to effective assistance of an attorney.

Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. Marsy’s Law can block the public’s access to information needed to make sure public officials are actually carrying out their duties responsibly and effectively.

Editorial: Harry-the-pot calls Donald-the-kettle black

Former Nevada Democratic Sen. and Senate majority leader Harry Reid appears to be on what one might suspect is a farewell media tour. Though he never was too cozy with the media, Reid has in recent weeks, while being treated for pancreatic cancer, granted lengthy interviews with The New York Times Magazine, the Las Vegas public radio station and the editor of the contribution-funded news and commentary website The Nevada Independent.

While most of the buzz has been about his harsh criticism of President Trump, calling him amoral, he also has been downright unrepentant about his own deeds over the years that pushed the boundaries of propriety.

In the Times article he was quoted as saying, “Trump is an interesting person. He is not immoral but is amoral. Amoral is when you shoot someone in the head, it doesn’t make a difference. No conscience.”

Reid went on to say, “I think he is without question the worst president we’ve ever had. … We’ve had some bad ones, and there’s not even a close second to him. … He’ll lie. He’ll cheat. You can’t reason with him.”

Harry Reid (NYT pix)

In the radio interview he doubled down, saying, “What amoral means is this: immoral is you do things and you feel bad about it. … If you are amoral, you have no conscience,” adding, “I didn’t use the word as a throwaway word. I used the word because I meant it.”

The Nevada Indy editor described Reid as seeming “positively giddy that his use of the word ‘amoral’ to describe Trump … had generated so many Google searches for the definition — 4,300, he beamed.”

Without a hint of irony the magazine story recounted how Reid in 2012, with no proof to back it up, falsely claimed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had not paid any income taxes in a decade. He later told CNN by way of justification, “I don’t regret it at all. Romney didn’t win, did he?”

The Indy even quotes Reid as being boastful about using the power of his office to badger bankers into lending money for MGM Resorts to finish its stalled City Center project and intimidating hedge fund managers into pulling out of financing coal-fired power plants near Ely that cost hundreds of jobs.

“No one in their right mind would have done what I did ….” the 79-year-old Reid said. “No one would have done that … but it paid off.”

This was the same Reid who twisted arms at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reverse a decision that was blocking visas for Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino with ties to Reid’s son Rory.

And yes, the same Reid who in 1998 invested $400,000 in a parcel of land in Las Vegas, but transferred the land to another party three years later for the purchase price, according to records. Yet, when the land sold in 2004 he pocketed $1.1 million. Reid aides dismissed the earlier deal as a “technical” transfer.

Sometimes his efforts fell short. After Reid acquired 160 acres in Bullhead City, Ariz., the land was expected to increase in value after Reid passed a bill to spend $20 million to build a bridge over the Colorado River nearby, but the bridge was never built.

No need to mention one of Reid’s backers went to prison for illegally bundling contributions to Reid.

On the radio Reid also boasted about getting millions in funding to research unidentified flying objects.

“I think it is something we can’t ignore. I personally don’t know if there exist little green men places. I kind of doubt that, but I do believe the information we have indicates we should do a lot more study,” he said, without deigning to mention that much of the secret “research” money went to a Las Vegas crony and campaign contributor.

Reid has a well-earned reputation for being truculent, belligerent, rude, viciously vindictive, antagonistic and downright Machiavellian. His own former press aide once told a reporter Reid looks at a person’s vulnerabilities to “disarm, to endear, to threaten, but most of all to instill fear.”

Perhaps we can file this under the category: It takes one to know one.

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: 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.