“Elections have consequences …” President Obama likes to tell Republicans, especially after he just won one.
But not in Nevada. Not any more.
The voters of Nevada swept into office a majority of Republicans in both the Assembly and state Senate, as well as all constitutional statewide offices — many of whom pledged to not raise taxes. Instead, the Republican governor has proposed the biggest tax hike in history — $1.3 billion — for the $7.3 billion general fund. It appears a majority of those Senate and Assembly Republicans will meekly go along with him.
Raising taxes will require a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature, but there does not appear to be enough votes to stop it.
To add literal insult to injury, several Republicans are ridiculing anyone who dares suggest anything even slightly less draconian than the governor’s plan.
When Republican Treasurer Dan Schwartz suggested the state could get by with raising the general fund budget only 4.6 percent instead of the 12.3 percent proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson barked at Schwartz, “I’m in shock and dismay that you would be here today proposing this. I’m embarrassed for you, sir.”
Sandoval’s Chief of Staff Mike Willden, who has had his snout in the public trough for 40 years, including several as head of the state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said to Schwartz that he was “insulted” by his criticism of the budget.
The governor himself sniffed to a Las Vegas television reporter, “As I said, I’d invite anybody to make their presentation, but again, it’s gotta be thoughtful.”
Actually, total state spending under Sandoval’s budget — which includes transportation expenditures and other special budgets — increases 16.5 percent, from $20.17 billion to $23.5 billion. Willden’s former HHS division grows by 28.5 percent under the governor’s budget to $9.6 billion, probably due mostly to expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare. Education spending increases by 15.8 percent under the governor’s budget.
Meanwhile, Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reported that weekly wages in Nevada increased half a percent in a year, while inflation for all of 2014 was 1.6 percent, meaning taxpayers lost ground — before taxes.
Two of Gov. Sandoval’s proposals were specifically rejected by the voters in November — a tax on gross receipts and increasing the tax on mining.
Despite this, Sandoval proposes a business license fee based on, you guessed it, gross receipts. He also proposes increasing the modified business tax on mining from 1.17 percent of payroll to 2 percent. Voters rejected the gross receipts tax by four to one, and one the loudest opponents was Brian Edward Sandoval.
The governor also advocates making permanent a package of temporary taxes that were supposed to sunset in 2011. Despite promises to the voters by the governor to allow those taxes to sunset, he extended them in 2011 and 2013 and now says they should be permanent, sucking nearly $600 million out of the taxpayers over the next two years.
Lawmakers now have passed and the governor has signed a bill that rolls over school bonds for 10 years beyond what the voters approved, meaning property taxes will not decrease as they would otherwise.
According to Nevada Policy Research Institute, this will cost taxpayers as much as an additional $4 billion in higher property taxes, especially in Clark and Washoe counties, where voters have in recent years rejected school bond issues at the ballot box.
A compromise proposal to extend the school bonding for only two years and put the matter on the ballot in 2016 never got any traction.
To further add insult to voter injury, Sandoval has even proposed that local school boards be appointed and not elected.
“Based on recent events, I have concluded that local school boards should be appointed, not elected,” the duly elected governor said in his State of the State speech. “Although well intended, some of these boards have become disconnected from their communities. I will therefore support legislation to provide for the appointment of members of local school boards.”
As a poke in the eye of the duly elected Washoe County school trustees, Sandoval then announced that he was naming the superintendent they had just fired to be Superintendent in Residence with the Nevada Department of Education.
And you thought your vote counted. Democracy in Nevada was a nice experiment while it lasted.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/