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 to 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.
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.
— For the record: In an earlier column it was pointed out that Nevada’s second quarter state and local tax revenues, according to the Census Bureau’s “Quarterly Summary of State and Local Government Tax Revenue,” amounted to nearly $2.9 billion. On a per capita basis that meant Nevada state and local taxes were 13th highest in the nation — 12th if you exclude the District of Columbia.
The third quarter state and local tax collections are now available and it turns out Nevada’s tax collections in the second quarter are an anomaly. Since 2005 Nevada and its local governments, unlike other states, have been collecting nearly 40 percent of their annual tax revenues in the second quarter, while the third quarter revenues plummet, also an anomaly. This year third quarter revenues were less than a fourth of the second quarter take — resulting in Nevada ranking dead last among the states in tax revenues.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at email@example.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.