Las Vegas Sun

March 24, 2023

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How little the special session has accomplished

Stranded on the capital island, trying to survive, desperately wanting to get kicked off, hoping for the best, fearing the worst — that is, same as it ever was here.

A Friday Flash of capital musings:

• Mining— It works for Nevada: The deal coming together at week’s end was worth $100 million to help fill the state’s budget deficit — that is, more than 10 percent of the problem for an industry that has many protections in the constitution and statute but is only the 18th biggest revenue-producer in the state.

Technically, mining is really coming up with only a quarter of that number — the rest are taxes they have to pay anyhow March 1 and prepayment of other taxes. So while it is true that money was not anticipated to be part of the package to reduce the deficit, mining had to give it to the state eventually.

The noise of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada folks moaning about the industry’s paltry contribution is only matched by the miners bragging that the net proceeds tax works because when the industry does well, the state gets more money. Both arguments miss the larger point, which is the lack of debate about whether mining’s overall contribution is commensurate with its standing and why the 16 industries between gaming and mining pay very little into the state treasury. Maybe in 2011. Or maybe not …

• Raggio’s last stand? There has been chatter about how this might be the last session we witness the service of one of the state’s greatest legislators. Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, halfway through his ninth decade, has relatively minor health problems. But his problems within his caucus are sure to worsen come 2011.

With the prospect of Ty Cobb Jr., Don Gustavson and James Settelmeyer joining a caucus that will also include Barbara Cegavske should she get re-elected and conservative Mike Roberson if he ousts Joyce Woodhouse, Raggio may not see much reason to return. His caucus would slant even more to the right, creating two dynamics:

1. The possibility of a coup to remove Raggio in his last session as GOP leader, which would be an awful way for him to go out.

2. The passage of some “tax reform” package would become almost impossible, with Majority Leader Steven Horsford’s chances of getting 14 votes much less likely.

Should Raggio decide not to return in 2011, the conventional wisdom is that Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert would be appointed to take his slot. She is less predictable than Raggio when it comes to budget issues, and her appointment would spark a succession fight in the Assembly. John Hambrick has said he is interested in Gansert’s leadership post.

How will the dominoes fall?

• It could have been so quick, but: This session should not have lasted more than 48 hours, and both branches are at fault for it extending into the weekend. The problem is relatively simple: Find a way to fill an $871 million hole. They have known the general size for weeks and should have been able to come up with a combination of cuts and fees/taxes (what’s in a name?).

Why didn’t they? One word: Politics.

The governor saw an opportunity to burnish his leadership bona fides while also larding the proclamation with stuff that had no business in a session that should have dealt only with the budget. Period. No education system overhaul, no water rights court decision overturn. If those are needed, call a separate session or wait until next year.

For their part, lawmakers have spent way too much time hearing testimony on what everyone in the state already knows: Education and human service cuts will be devastating to schoolchildren, the poor and others on the fringes of society. All of the mewling about the end of higher and lower ed as we know them, all of the horror stories about adult diapers and mental health service reductions will not change one vote or move public opinion one iota.

Yes, I understand the need for a show — by the governor and by the Gang of 63. But as they have undertaken perhaps the most solemn task in state annals, neither side has acquitted itself well. It’s easy to ridicule the governor — and he makes it easier with his erratic personal and professional behavior. But he had a plan, Jell-O-like though it may have become, and lawmakers should have come in with an alternative.

They could have passed it through the Assembly, hoped for the best in the Senate and avoided much of the nonsense we have had to endure.

Maybe next time.

Jon Ralston’s column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Ralston can be reached at 870-7997 or at [email protected]

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