Newspaper column: Holding the line on taxation will take only 15 Assembly members

At this point, perhaps the best we can hope for is gridlock.

The 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature is only a month away — 120 days during which our lives, liberties and property, especially our property, will be in jeopardy, as Mark Twain once opined.

In the November election, nearly 80 percent of the state’s penurious voters defeated a proposal to increase business taxes to fund education and for the first time in 85 years elected Republican majorities to both the Assembly and state Senate. This will complement the Republican governor, as well as all other statewide constitutional offices. The Assembly has 25 Republicans and 17 Democrats. The Senate has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

It shouldn’t take a reading of the tea leaves to figure out what the voters want, but nonetheless broad hints are being bandied about that Nevadans simply aren’t taxed enough already and surely we can afford to fork over another billion dollars or so.

Nevada Legislative building (R-J photo)

Even Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has flatly refused to rule out the possibility of floating a tax hike.

State agencies have submitted budgets that total $7.7 billion in spending in the next biennium, while the Economic Forum has projected the current taxes will raise only $6.3 billion.

“Today’s Economic Forum report reminds us yet again that our revenue structure is not built to meet the demands of our changing economy nor our continued increase in statewide population,” Sandoval said in a statement when the projection was made.

Since the election that Republican majority has turned on itself in what can best be described as a circular firing squad.

First, the Republican caucus’ newly elected speaker, Ira Hansen of Sparks, was hoisted on his own petard — a series of two-decade old newspaper columns that did not mince words while mincing Democrats. But his criticism of how the Democrats treated blacks was misconstrued as being offensive to blacks, so Hansen stepped down as speaker.

Up stepped John Hambrick of Las Vegas as speaker. When old reports about Republican majority leader and Taxation Committee chair Michele Fiore’s troubles with the IRS resurfaced, Hambrick removed her from both jobs, only to reinstate her the next day, only to remove her again a few days later after Fiore explained her situation on the radio.

Fiore, a fiscal conservative who has pledged to not raise taxes, blamed her tax woes on a former employee and said she is making payments to the IRS. But she also claimed she was targeted by a Republican fund-raiser and two paid political consultants, one of whom has worked for Hambrick.

At this point, I’m not sure the Republican caucus can put together a foursome for a game of Bridge, much less a coherent, fiscally conservative collation that can cut spending and hold the line on taxation.

And there are still rumors that a few renegade Republicans could join with the 17 Democrats when the Legislature opens and elect someone other than Hambrick as speaker of the Assembly.

The saving grace may lie in former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons’ constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds vote of both the Assembly and Senate to increase taxes.

That means 15 members of the Assembly can block any tax hike proposal.

The Assembly Republicans appear to be almost evenly split between fiscal conservatives and moderates.

Gridlock may be our best hope.

This column is available online at The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and Elko Daily Free Press.

Putting the news in its proper perspective

“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing …”

C.S. Lewis

Guests tour a water project in September. (R-J photo)

You really can’t tell what you are seeing until you determine where you are standing. In other words: What is your perspective?

Take the glowing report in today’s newspaper about the about-to-be completed “third straw” to tap Lake Mead water for Las Vegas.

“This is a big deal,” the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s director of engineering was quoted as saying. “It’s very exciting.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval said after touring the project, “If you ever had any doubt in the capability (and) the ingenuity of modern engineering, you won’t have any doubt any more if you (go) down there. … It really made an impression on me in terms of what has to be done and what is being done throughout the West to ensure a secure water supply in the future for Nevada.”

The project cost $817 million and has taken seven years to complete.

Hoover Dam itself took five years to complete and cost about $833 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.

But it’s very exciting, especially when you consider that the SNWA board just voted this morning to spend $650 million on a new pumping station that would keep the third intake working even if the lake level falls too low for the dam to release water downstream. That, of course, comes with a water rate hike.





News of BLM behavior reaches Carson City

Four days into the BLM theft of Cliven Bundy’s cattle on public land near Gold Butte, Gov. Brian Sandoval has released a statement bemoaning the behavior of the BLM agents.

He said he had received numerous complaints about road closures and other disturbances and said he has talked to BLM officials.

“Most disturbing to me is the BLM’s establishment of a ‘First Amendment Area’ that tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution,” Sandoval said. “To that end, I have advised the BLM that such conduct is offensive to me and countless others and that the ‘First Amendment Area’ should be dismantled immediately.”

To which I would add that citizens should not take it upon themselves to dismantle the ‘First Amendment Areas’ until a few public officials take offense at the fact the feds have stationed snipers atop several hills overlooking public roadways.

“No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans,” the governor said, not ever mentioning the snipers.

Cliven Bundy walks by a First Amendment Area set up by the Bureau of Land Management near Bunkerville. (R-J photo by John Locher)

Newspaper column: Forcing group to reveal donors flies in the face of American tradition and philosophy

A Carson City judge this past week ordered a Virginia-based conservative group to pay a fine of $109,560, plus interest, plus attorney fees for violating a Nevada law that requires any group that engages in “express advocacy” in elections to register with the Secretary of State and report donors and expenditures, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Lawyer’s for the group — Alliance for America’s Future (AAF), which spent $189,223.50 airing a 30-second television commercial 320 times praising Brian Sandoval’s conservatism during the gubernatorial campaign of 2010 — had argued that the law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

AAF ad calling Sandoval a conservative (screen grab)

AAF ad calling Sandoval a conservative (screen grab)

They told the judge the group had only one Nevada donor.

The commercial clearly carried a disclaimer saying: “Paid for by Alliance for America’s Future.” It concludes with a still photo of Sandoval and the words: “Brian Sandoval. No tax increases. No government waste. Just Conservative.” It never expressly calls for viewers to vote for Sandoval.

The Judge James Wilson wrote of AAF’s protest of the size of the penalty, “No amount of civil penalties can redress the injury to Nevada voters caused by refusal to timely provide them with the information to which they are entitled, thus there is no adequate remedy at law.”

The adequate remedy is that voters can decide for themselves the merits of a communication and whether to discount it if donors remain anonymous. They don’t need the state forcibly outing contributors. The Founders often wrote anonymously or under pseudonyms because they did not want the message to be dismissed as self-serving.

Though various appellate courts and even the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC have upheld laws such as Nevada’s as constitutional, it is clearly an abridgment of free speech to force people to surrender their right to anonymously express their views about elections, candidates and issues with donations to like-minded groups.

Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent in Citizens United spoke directly to the topic of forcing people to reveal their identities as a prerequisite to speaking out about issues and candidates, saying such laws have spawned a cottage industry that uses forcibly disclosed donor information to intimidate, retaliate, threaten and boycott individuals and businesses with whom they disagree.

Thomas wrote: “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”

An email to AAF asking whether the group would appeal has not garnered a reply.

Free speech is a right, not a privilege that requires prior government permission.

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko sites.

Letting illegals drive legally is not a benefit, but an obligation to buy liability insurance

I cringe every time I read that our immigration laws are broken and need to be fixed. No, our immigration law enforcement is broken and no one, but no one, is willing to lift so much as a finger to do anything about it. The law is just fine.

But when it comes to Senate Bill 303, recently signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, I don’t look at it as a benefit that allows illegal immigrants to drive, but as an obligation for those who are already driving illegally anyway to buy liability insurance, which protects the rest of us. I must know a half dozen people who have been involved in car wrecks involving drivers who were in the country illegally, had no driver’s license and no insurance whatsoever. Every one of those accidents constitutes a hidden tax that drives up the cost of car insurance for us all. (And I’ve never heard of a single one of those people who were in the country illegally, driving illegally and illegally failing to purchase car insurance being deported.)

Gov. Sandoval signs SB303. (R-J photo)

You can’t get insurance if you can’t legally drive, and you can’t legally drive if you don’t have insurance.

Every news story, in my opinion, buried the lede. They said in order to get a “driver authorization card” an “immigrant” would have to take a driving test — the written part of which may be given in Spanish, by the way — pay a fee and, oh yeah, purchase insurance — an after thought.

How many illegal immigrants ever bother to do so is the big question. While I had my doubts any reporter with any news organization would follow up in the months after the bill becomes law on Jan. 1 and ask this question, I read section 1, paragraph 10 of the law and figured it could be used to cloak the whole thing in secrecy anyway. Why should we and our insurance companies be able to learn whether this is a workable answer or a futile gesture?

That section reads:

“The Director shall not release any information relating to legal presence or any other information relating to or describing immigration status, nationality or citizenship from a file or record relating to a request for or the issuance of a license, identification card or title or registration of a vehicle to any person or to any federal, state or local governmental entity for any purpose relating to the enforcement of immigration laws.”

Not only does that squander the chance to create a good database of immigration law scofflaws should anyone ever get the notion to enforce existing laws, it probably could be an excuse to not reveal to the taxpayers just how many are signing up and becoming insured, even though defining purpose is “relating to the enforcement of immigration laws.” Wouldn’t want to scare anyone away by actually enforcing immigration laws for a change.