‘Find me candidates who believe in real conservative principles’?

One-note Root today offers his solution to the 2018 Republican election rout.

One can’t argue with his premise that Gov. Brian Sandoval did not live up to his election promises. Instead, he shepherded though the largest tax increase in state history to pay for the highest budget; pushed through the commerce tax on businesses; expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare; allowed illegals aliens to get driver’s licenses; and bailed on school choice.

But Root’s solution is:

Find me candidates who believe in real conservative principles and who know how to proudly and loudly sell that message, and I’ll show you a Nevada that is painted Republican red again. That’s a Christmas message of hope for the Nevada GOP.

Well, they don’t get any more conservative than Bob Beers, who lost the race for state treasurer to an unknown, much less-qualified Democrat. The same could be said for Ron Knecht, who lost his controller re-election bid, and Wes Duncan, who lost his bid for attorney general. And, yes, Adam Laxalt had said he would try to repeal the commerce tax and as attorney general defended conservative principles and values. He lost to a tax-loving Democrat. We’ll skip over tax-hiker Michael Roberson.

Root’s solution has already failed. What now, one-note Root?

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.

Editorial: Here’s another chance to repeal the Commerce Tax

In 2014 Nevada voters rejected by 79 percent to 21 percent a proposed margins tax, effectively an income tax on state businesses. Despite this unequivocal rejection at the ballot box, lawmakers a few short months later passed a similar, though currently somewhat smaller, tax called the Commerce Tax.

The Commerce Tax passed with a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate and was signed by a Republican governor.

In 2016 a group called RIP Commerce Tax filed an initiative petition to place repeal of the Commerce Tax on the 2016 ballot, but the effort stalled when, with only a month left until the deadline for gathering signatures, the courts ruled the wording of the petition failed to sufficiently warn voters that a tax repeal would unbalance the state budget — like that would come as a startling development to anyone.

This past week the same group, this time with a new moniker, Repeal the Commerce Tax, filed another petition, fixing the wording to satisfy the courts, and plans to begin gathering signatures.

The group is still headed by state Controller Ron Knecht, as president, and former Las Vegas City Councilman and state Sen. Bob Beers, as secretary-treasurer.

Knecht noted the group has started its petition drive earlier in order to allow for expected legal challenges. He said their lawyers advised them to use exactly the language the courts told them to use the last time.

“Essentially, we are saying here’s what the Legislature passed, do you all agree?” Knecht said in a recent interview. “Do you want to vote for it or against it. If you vote for it, you get the Commerce Tax. You vote against it, you repeal the Commerce Tax. You have the final word.”

The petition includes the entire text of the Commerce Tax law as well as a 200-word description of effect that mirrors the courts instruction to explain the impact repeal would have on the state budget. “They said use exactly what the two courts said and that’s what we did,” Knecht said. “That should make the description of effect pretty much bullet proof.”

By the time the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in 2015, the RIP Commerce Tax had already gathered 20,000 signatures of the 55,000 needed, but they had only a month left to gather signatures, and those 20,000 were ruled invalid.

Knecht said this time the group has joined with Americans for Prosperity for assistance in gathering signatures.

“It is true we have to gather twice as many signatures this time due to turnout in the two elections,” he noted. Petitioners must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent general election in each of the state’s four Congressional Districts.

Because the 2016 election was a presidential one and twice as many votes were cast than in 2014, Knecht said the group must gather 112,000 signatures — 28,000 in each Congressional District — but they plan to gather 160,000 signatures to allow for signers who might not be qualified.

“Once the thing gets onto the ballot, the issue is going to be real simple: One, this is about jobs,” Knecht said. “The Commerce Tax is a job destroyer. Repealing it will be a real help. And, secondly, for all those people who think, oh, this is just about corporate taxes and fleecing the millionaires and billionaires, et cetera. Well, you’re wrong. As economists have proven many times over, business doesn’t pay tax, it collects it from its customers. This is about jobs and the burden on Nevada families and businesses.”

According to the petition’s new description of effect, the Commerce Tax is expected to generate about $102 million in the coming fiscal year, which Knecht noted is only about 1 percent of the state’s total revenues. The description notes that such a shortfall can be offset by cutting spending, drawing down the state rainy day fund, raising other taxes or some combination. Somehow the state managed to survive when the recession axed the state revenues by $536 million from 2008 to 2009.

The Commerce Tax imposes a gross receipts tax on all businesses grossing more than $4 million a year. It has different tax tables for 27 different industries — ranging from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation in 67 different levels of revenue. Those rates could easily be increased.

We urge Nevadans to sign the petition and to vote to repeal this end run on the state’s constitutional ban on an income tax.

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.

Controller Ron Knecht, left, talks to attorney Craig Mueller during a 2016 court hearing on an effort to repeal the Commerce Tax. (R-J pix)

Newspaper column: Lawmakers must finally address public worker retirement reform

Gov. Sandoval gives State of the State speech. (R-J photo)

Gov. Sandoval gives State of the State speech. (R-J photo)

In his State of the State speech this past week Gov. Brian Sandoval tossed out tax money like trinkets and candy from a Mardi Gras parade float — a couple million here for this or that education program, a few million there for a veterans’ home, millions for a medical school, more millions for an engineering school and pay raises for state employees.

“This session, my budget includes a 4 percent cost of living adjustment and increased funding for health benefits to recognize the shared sacrifice and dedication of our state employees,” the smiling governor said about his spending proposal for the coming two years.

Overall, Sandoval proposed a 10 percent increase in the general fund portion of the state budget, even though the cost of living increase for 2016 was only 2 percent.

What the governor did not address was how the taxpayers are going to pay for the commensurately higher retirement pensions that are tied to the salaries of those state employees.

Nor did he take note of the fact his proposed budget — total budget, not just the general fund — is 49 percent higher than the total budget he proposed when he first took office, while over the past decade the Nevada median household income has fallen 17 percent.

A part of the growth in state government spending has been due to burgeoning pensions for state employees, who upon retirement are guaranteed a percentage of their highest salary level — which officially is 70 percent after 25 years, but can often top 100 percent after various pay add-ons and gimmicks are employed. Public employees in Nevada can retire in their 40s and get paid more in retirement than they were paid for actually working.

In 2008 the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce called on the Legislature to change public employee retirement benefits from the current direct benefit plan to a direct contribution plan, similar to a 401(k), because the expenditures were growing at an unsustainable pace.

In 2011 a report drafted for the Nevada Policy Research Institute by Andrew Biggs, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute, concluded the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System is vastly underfunded by more than $40 billion.

“What people don’t realize,” Biggs said to a luncheon audience back then, “is your typical public sector pension plan is a lot more generous than what a typical person is going to get in the private sector. Let’s just take a person and run their wages through what they would get from PERS versus what they could get from a typical 401(k) plan combined with Social Security, because public employees here don’t participate in Social Security. They both pay the same amount on average. The total contribution is about the same, but the benefits for someone under PERS — for a full career employee — is somewhere around 50 percent higher.”

In 2015 Reno Republican Assemblyman Randy Kirner introduced Assembly Bill 190, which called for reforming PERS, which at the time was costing nearly $15,000 per Nevadan per year and growing.

The changes Kirner proposed would have applied to future state and local government workers and not current ones.

AB190 would have introduced a hybrid — part defined benefit, part defined contribution.

The bill also tied the minimum retirement age for receiving full benefits to that allowed under Social Security, though police officers and firefighters would be able to retire with full benefits 10 years earlier.

Kirner argued his bill would have a minimal impact on taxpayers, but the PERS administration claimed it would cost millions to implement. Kirner withdrew the bill so the funding could be studied and he could re-introduce it again this year, but Kirner decided to not seek re-election.

Instead, state Controller Ron Knecht has offered a bill nearly identical to Kirner’s, but it is questionable whether it will get much of a hearing before a Legislature that is now comprised of majority Democrats in both chambers.

This past summer NPRI’s Director of Transparency Research Robert Fellner released a 36-page report warning that if the economy stumbles the PERS “fantasy economic forecasts will be replaced by immediate bankruptcy — leaving every Silver State household with a sudden, implicit, $50,000-plus tax liability.”

Nevada lawmakers have been kicking this can down the road so long it is now a 55-gallon drum ready to explode.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: This little ‘Piggy’ is getting fat at the public trough


Back in the 1970s Wisconsin U.S. Sen. William Proxmire began handing out his monthly Golden Fleece Award, recognizing wasteful spending by government agencies, such as a $4 million advertising campaign by the Postal Service to encourage Americans to write more letters to each other.

After his retirement, along came Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who published an annual “Wastebook” list of 100 wasteful government boondoggles and debacles, which one year criticized the IRS for allowing $17.5 million in tax deductions for business expenses at Nevada brothels, such as breast implants, costumes and “equipment.”

A couple of years ago the folks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute picked up the cudgel and gave it a Nevada spin. “The Nevada Piglet Book” each year compiled a compendium of pork, profligacy, political proclivities and petty poltroonery.

Apparently the porker has grown, because this year’s recently published 28-page edition is titled, “The Nevada Piggy Book 2016.” Perhaps in a few years, at the current rate of state and local government growth in spending, it will be called “The Nevada Hog Book.”

One of this year’s new entries is a slap on the wrist for a $12.1 million, 3-mile demonstration bike path along the shores of Lake Tahoe, administered by the Tahoe Transportation District. Yes, that is more than $4 million per mile. You can build a four-lane divided highway for less than that.

The goal is to eventually build a bike path around the entire lake, which is more than 70 miles in circumference.

“The Highway Safety Research Center, housed within North Carolina’s UNC-Chapel Hill complex, estimates that constructing a bike path can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000 per mile. …” the authors of the Piggy Book note.

In another new entry, the NPRI publication takes aim at the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s penchant for purchasing more vehicles than it needs.

According to an audit, the agency in one recent year had 118 total pooled vehicles, but more than half — 64 — had been driven less than the required 8,400 miles in a year. Four vehicles had no recorded mileage at all.

“Reducing fleet size could result in annual savings of up to $244,000 and a one-time savings of up to $163,000 from disposal of excess vehicles,” NPRI quoted the audit as saying.

The bulk of the book was devoted to a perennial topic: overly generous public employee salaries and obscenely excessive retirement benefits.

The Piggy Book cited several examples of retirement benefits undreamed of in the private sector. One Nevada firefighter retired in his early 40s and immediately began drawing a $105,000 annual pension from the Nevada Public Employee Retirement System. Though he had worked only 20 years, he “purchased” five years of entitlement to qualify for a 25-year pension level.

That firefighter is currently working full-time at a California fire department and being paid more than $300,000 a year. If he lives to his mid-80s, his annual Nevada pension alone, after compounding up to 5 percent a year in cost of living adjustments, could exceed $500,000 a year, NPRI calculates.

A Nevada police officer, the book tells us, retired at age 38 and began drawing $110,000 a year in pension money. Considering his life expectancy and cost adjustments, his total taxpayer funded pension should exceed $13 million.

“Nevadans’ tax dollars should go to providing public services,” the authors argue. “They should not be funding million-dollar retirement benefits for people out to amass personal fortunes by exploiting the bad public-policy decisions of naïve, ignorant or tainted politicians.”

The book further notes that local government salaries for police, firefighters and corrections officers rank fourth highest in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, while the adjusted wages of average Nevadans rank 46th.

The trajectory is for things to get worse before they get better.

As state Controller Ron Knecht pointed out recently, over the past decade total state spending (and that does not include local government agencies) grew 55 percent, while Nevadan’s incomes grew only 27 percent.

The term for that is unsustainable.

NPRI concludes, “For the interest groups that have covertly taken up residence within the public trough, trimming government is manifestly verboten. They have come to believe that — regardless of the waste, fraud and abuse that routinely takes place — they can always squeeze a few more billion dollars from the naïve, hard-working 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.

Editorial: Fallacious Supreme Court ruling probably dooms commerce tax referendum

Though anyone capable of signing a petition with anything other than an “X” understands that a vote to repeal a tax would require lawmakers to either cut spending or find revenue elsewhere, the Nevada Supreme Court in its infinite pettifogging wisdom ruled this past week that Nevada voters are just too darned dimwitted to understand this and must be lead by the nose.

The unanimous opinion found the description on the petition seeking to repeal the commerce tax passed by the 2015 Legislature failed to tell signers of this fact and therefore was misleading and deceptive.

The group RIP Commerce Tax, headed by state Controller Ron Knecht, had already gathered 20,000 signatures of the 55,000 needed by a June 21 deadline before it suspended circulation of the petition pending the court’s decision. Now those 20,000 signatures are invalid and the process must start over with only a month to go.

Knecht vows to try to qualify the referendum for the November ballot, though he concedes the chance of getting enough signatures is uncertain.

He plans to quickly submit new wording for the 200-word petition description to the district court judge who had approved the previous description. The new description lifts language and figures from the Supreme Court opinion and adds a sentence saying: “So, there would be a net $74.9 million reduction in state fiscal year 2016/17 revenues, technically unbalancing the budget, and $59.9 million in succeeding years.”

The commerce tax would impose a gross receipts tax on all businesses grossing more than $4 million a year. It has different tax tables for 27 different industries — ranging from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation in 67 different levels of revenue. Future legislatures could increase rates or lower the threshold.

Lawmakers passed the commerce tax with a two-thirds majority in a Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate for signature by a Republican governor, even though voters turned down at the ballot box the previous November a nearly identical, though considerably larger, version of the commerce tax by a margin of 4-to-1.

The Supreme Court ruling said repeal of the tax would lead to an unbalanced budget, which the state Constitution prohibits, and “the description of effect makes no mention whatsoever of this critical consequence. Accordingly, we conclude that the referendum’s description is deceptive for failing to accurately identify the practical ramification of the commerce tax’s disapproval, and any signatures obtained on petitions with this misleading description are invalid.”

Apparently, snipping $60 million a year from a multi-billion-dollar state budget creates a crisis, even though in the real world the state managed to survive when the recession axed the state revenues by $536 million from 2008 to 2009.

Also, Michael Schaus, communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, points out just how phony that balanced budget argument is.

The revenue from the current commerce tax will be deposited in the state treasury by Aug. 15 — before the November elections — meaning no revenue loss this fiscal year. The Legislature meets in February 2017, giving it ample time to deal with a potential dearth of commerce tax revenue by next August.

“There would be no crisis, no devastation of government agencies and no budgetary hole,” Schaus writes. “The court’s ruling says the petition must now include language warning against a hole in the state budget — a hole that, in truth, is imaginary.”

Though odds of the tax repeal being on the November ballot are rather long, having it on the ballot might create a quandary for astute voters.

Knecht’s petition description — old and new — notes that disapproval of the commerce tax “does not prohibit the Legislature from enacting future legislation that imposes a commerce tax,” conceivably an even more onerous one.

But the Supreme Court ruling notes that if voters let the commerce tax stand, it “shall not be amended, annulled, repealed, set aside, suspended or in any way made inoperative except by the direct vote of the people.” Doesn’t not amended mean not increased?

It would be tempting to freeze it from legislative meddling, because, as the lawyer for RIP Commerce Tax pointed out in oral arguments before the court, when the income tax was created in 1913 it was supposed to be only on millionaires, but today everyone pays. “Now, the two things I’ve noticed about government, it never gets any smaller, taxes never go down,” the lawyer said.

If given the opportunity, we encourage voters to sign the petition so we might face just such a quandary.

A version of this editorial appears this past 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.

Update: On Friday a Carson City judge approved new language for the petition that includes a mention of the deficit that would be created by repeal of the tax, according to the Las Vegas newspaper.


Editorial: Courts should let the voters decide on commerce tax — again

In 2014 the voters of Nevada rejected by a 4-to-1 margin a tax on company revenues being pushed by the state teachers’ union.

Instead, the 2015 Legislature adopted a smaller version of the same job killing business margin tax — this time dubbed a commerce tax — despite the myriad arguments against it.

Whether the voters will get a chance again this November to reject this business tax now lies in the hands of the Nevada Supreme Court.

A group headed by Nevada Controller Ron Knecht plans to circulate a petition to place a referendum before the voters to repeal the commerce tax, which is estimated to raise $60 million a year as part of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.5 billion package of new and higher taxes for the biennium.

Nevada Assistant State Controller Geoffrey Lawrence and Controller Ron Knecht present an alternative to Gov. Brian Sandoval‘s tax plan in May. (R-J photo)

In November District Judge James Wilson of Carson City rejected a constitutional challenge to the petition by a group calling itself the Coalition for Nevada’s Future, but this past week the group filed an appeal with the state’s high court. Nevada Assistant State Controller Geoffrey Lawrence and Controller Ron Knecht present an alternative to Gov. Brian Sandoval‘s tax plan in May. (R-J photo)

Judge Wilson had ruled, “The court concludes even if the Legislature enacts a statute, the people do not lose their constitutional right to submit the statute to a vote of the people.”

A separate effort to repeal the entire $1.5 billion tax hike was rejected by another judge but appeals continue and refiling of the petition is possible.

Backers of the commerce tax repeal must gather 55,000 signatures by June 21 to qualify for the November ballot.

While the commerce tax does not currently tax businesses nearly as aggressively as the teachers’ union version, it has the potential to grow over time and promises to be costly for businesses to be able to comply. As written, it has different tax rates for 27 different industries — ranging from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation in 67 different levels of revenue. And there is nothing to prevent future legislatures from ratcheting up those rates.

The tax rates on gross receipts vary because the profit margins in different industries vary greatly, but the law’s tax tables ignore the fact that profit can vary within an industry, too.

Gov. Sandoval has promised to fight the repeal efforts, calling such petitions “a wrongheaded attack on the children and families of Nevada. Supported by more than seventy percent of legislators, the revenue the petition seeks to eliminate will go directly to the classroom and give teachers the resources to deliver a quality education.”

Do 70 percent of lawmakers trump 80 percent of voters? We think not. The arguments against the so-called margin tax still apply to the commerce tax and are compelling.

The margin tax got on the 2014 ballot through the referendum process. The referendum process should be allowed to give voters a chance to repeal this tax that was already rejected once.

The Nevada Supreme Court should expedite this commerce tax case to give petitioners time to gather the necessary signatures by the mid-summer deadline.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in 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.

Controller offers plan to spend more without raising taxes … sort of

While Gov. Brian Sandoval’s revised tax hiking plan, hatched behind closed doors, warranted banner play in the Las Vegas newspaper today, Controller Ron Knecht’s public presentation of an alternative plan that spends nearly as much but raises no taxes got less than short shrift in the news coverage. It got no shrift. The only mention came in a liberal column pooh-poohing it as a waste of time.

Sandoval’s plan basically shifts his margin tax-lite business license fee to a margin tax-lite “commerce” tax. Either way it will require a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature.

Knecht’s plan does not — although it takes a bit of sleight of hand to avoid the tax hike label.

During a couple hours in front of a skeptical Assembly taxation committee, Knecht outlined his proposal which would spend $6.9 billion instead of the $7.3 billion in the governor’s plan. He calls in the Budget Plan for Growth. Both increase education spending.

Knecht noted that relative to the economy, state revenues have grown 19 percent since 2008. “Our conclusion is: The state of Nevada has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” he said.

The bulk of Knecht’s increases in revenue for the next biennium — $744 million — would come from requiring local governments to calculate what they would save if public employees paid more into their retirement system — 7 percent for most and more than 10 percent for public safety workers. Then the local governments would write a check to the state for that amount.

Knecht said this will move the local public employees toward parity with state employees, who contribute twice as much of their salaries toward retirement. It also could amount to big cuts in salaries if local governments can’t find other funds to cover that $744 million. The controller said the legislative lawyers say this is not a tax and would not need a two-thirds vote.

Knecht’s plan is not even in bill form, and the governor’s revision need to be written up in bill form.

The Budget Plan for Growth has the advantage of taking less of a bite out of the private sector, thus allowing economic growth, which would result in higher revenue generation for the state.

How many special sessions will it take to pass a budget?

Here are key points in the BPfG proposal.

Here are key points in the BPfG proposal. The Economic Forum cut the estimated revenue because of all the tax abatements the governor was handing out to billionaires like Elon Musk and his Tesla battery plant.

This is how BPfG brings in revenue.

This is how BPfG brings in revenue.

This graph shows the inequity between private sector pay and local government pay.

This graph shows the inequity between private sector pay and local government pay.

This graph compares Knecht spending projections to Sandoval's.

This graph compares Knecht spending projections to Sandoval’s.

The PowerPoint: BPfG Taxation Committee Presentation 14May15





Only four state senators vote against governor’s margin tax lite

Only four state senators had the gumption today to vote against the governor’s margin tax lite, which taxes businesses based on their gross receipts in the same way as the proposal on November’s ballot, which was defeated by voters by a 4-to-1 margin.

The four were Republicans Pete Giocoechea, Donald Gustavson, Scott Hammond and James Settelmeyer. That means seven Republicans and all the Democrats voted for Senate Bill 252, making the final vote 17-4. It now goes to the Assembly, where its fate is unknown.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz and Controller Ron Knecht jointly sent out a press release calling on the Assembly to reject the bill. Press release on SB252

“To propose a tax that has been explicitly rejected by Nevada voters displays a blatant disregard for the democratic process. The Governor has called for alternatives. Those have been provided. They should be considered along with reprioritizing several proposed expenditures,” said Schwartz.

Assembly member Michele Fiore sent out an email pointing out that SB252 has 1,811 unique tax brackets based upon gross receipts. (The state Constitution states: “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …”)

She noted that the unemployment rate is still 7.1 percent in Nevada and “the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.”

Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Executive Vice President Victor Joecks commented:

“The voters of Nevada made clear in November that they do not want to impose a gross-receipts business tax, yet today the Senate passed a similar tax. Unlike the 17 Senators who voted in favor of SB252, Nevada voters recognized that raising taxes on businesses that are struggling or even losing money will only hurt families and parents throughout Nevada.”

Actually, as a survey reported by NPRI points out, Nevada voters apparently aren’t paying any attentionThe poll, conducted by Google Consumer Surveys in March, found 89.4 percent either did not know Sandoval supports the largest tax increase in Nevada history or mistakenly thought the governor supports keeping taxes low.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said the so-called business license fee based on gross receipts will eventually rake in $250 million a year. The Nevada Registered Agent Association commissioned a study that says his figure is off by $65 million. NRAA Study

When Texas launched its margin tax it was expected to bring in $5.9 billion a year, but only netted $4.45 billion its first year and $4 billion the next.

Never mind that most of what Sandoval plans to spend on improving education will not work and has not worked when tried elsewhere.














Will Republican lawmakers ridicule this budget proposal, too?

When Dan Schwartz had the temerity to suggest the state would not sink into chaos if its general fund budget was increased by merely 4.6 percent instead of the governor’s proposed 12.3 percent, he was ridiculed and shouted at. Not enough detail he was told.

Now Assembly Majority Whip Jim Wheeler, state Controller Ron Knecht and a few other conservative Republicans have presented their “Balanced Plan for Growth: A Budget for the New Nevada,” an alternative to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.3 billion increase in general fund spending and taxes.

Knecht said the plan spends almost all of what Sandoval wants on education, but eliminates the need for the business license fee/margin tax and allows “sunset” taxes to actually sunset.

The plan still calls for spending $6.92 billion, which is more than the $6.3 billion that the Economic Forum forecast will be available to spend under current tax law.

Wheeler and Knecht explain how their budget reaches some of that extra spending:

“Holds employer contributions to employee pensions constant at current rates and requires all employees to contribute to their own retirements.It redirects $334 million in projected savings from this measure as a revenue source for public education.”

Additional savings, they save, comes from funding education programs through block grants instead of usual appropriations.

“The Plan is our attempt to move the process forward and avoid a Legislative stalemate by providing a work-in-progress budget between current spending and the Governor’s proposed budget,” said Knecht in a press release.  “Our proposal is not the final word, but instead a constructive Plan that is conciliatory and fully respectful of the roles of the Governor and the Legislature.”

Budget Plan for Growth press release

Balanced Plan for Growth Budget details

bjt plan

Spending plan from Wheeler and Knecht continues from one page the next

bjt spending 1

bjt spending 2

Many of the line items are the same as the governor’s. One notable exception is the GOED — Governor’s Office of Economic Development.