Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2017

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Sun editorial:

Endorsements for state questions

Question 1: a new appeals court

Nevada’s Supreme Court is one of the busiest in the nation, with justices facing a crippling caseload. As a result, justice is served slowly.

There’s a reason for that: The state Supreme Court is Nevada’s only appellate court for cases coming from District Courts, which means everything of significance, from felony convictions to complex construction defect cases.

There’s a simple solution: Create an intermediate court to help ease the burden, weed out frivolous appeals and handle more routine matters. But this new court needs to be approved by Nevada’s voters, and so far, they’ve been unwilling. Voters turned down a similar measure in 2010, with 53 percent of the voters against it.

Why did it fail? Apparently, people didn’t want to see a greater cost to government or more bureaucracy, so they voted against the measure.

This, however, isn’t about more bureaucracy or adding costs. It’s about increasing efficiency in a system that is badly overburdened. The plan would add three judges, at minimal cost, and they would use existing court space. That would actually save money because cases would be decided more quickly, cutting the cost to the parties involved.

As it is, the cost of trying a case in court in Nevada is high because it takes such a long time to get a final decision. Justice delayed is not only justice denied, but also it’s an expensive brand of justice.

The fact remains that Nevada is just one of a handful of states without an intermediate appellate court. It might have worked 150 years ago, when the state was founded, but it doesn’t work today.

Nevada needs a new appeals court. Voters should approve it. The Sun endorses a yes vote on Question 1.

Question 2: mining tax cap

When Nevada’s state constitution was written 150 years ago, the mining interests held great sway, and they won a sweetheart of a deal: They had taxes on the industry capped at 5 percent.

And it has been that way ever since.

Now, 150 years later, it should be clear that the cap has been in place long enough. Mining might have needed that tax cap in the mid-1800s, but today, the industry can stand on its own without that protection, and in fact, it has stood on its own in other places of the country and the world that don’t provide such a cap.

No other industry in the state – not gaming, tourism or retail – enjoys such protection. And removing the cap doesn’t increase mining’s tax burden. All it does is allow the Legislature to treat mining the same way it treats every other business in the state.

That is simply a matter of fairness, and that is the appropriate way for Nevada to move into its next 150 years.

If this measure is repealed, as it should be, the mining companies can lobby the Legislature, just as every other business does.

The Sun endorses a yes vote on Question 2.

Question 3: the margin tax

Question 3 remains one of the most frustrating issues on the ballot. It proposes creating a margin tax on business to help fund education.

There’s no doubt the state needs more money for its schools. Nevada has notoriously left the public schools without the financial resources needed to do the job. Nevada’s rankings on any number of education indicators – student achievement, proficiency, high school dropouts – demonstrate the state is failing the children.

No, money doesn’t fix everything, but the schools need money to function. As it is, the state funds education at levels below the national average for per-pupil funding, and our crowded campuses are falling into disrepair.

So, on the face of it, that would seem to be a case for the margin tax, but a closer look shows Question 3, although proposed with the best of intentions, puts the state on a dangerous path.

First, this is a bad tax. Despite what proponents say, even at 2 percent, it’s too high, especially for businesses that run on small margins. And despite the threshold purportedly designed to help small businesses, it would still be disastrous to small businesses.

Second, it wouldn’t adequately fund education, it would just change the way education is funded. There’s no guarantee money generated from the tax would be supplemental. The Legislature could use it to fund the basic operations of the schools, and thus, Nevada would be nowhere closer to doing the right thing.

Third, this is the wrong way to make tax policy. If this measure passes, the Legislature won’t be able to change the policy for years, as it will need to. The way the question is written shows some inevitable issues, and saddling the state with more bad policy would only make a bad situation worse.

The solution is one we’ve already seen developing: Business groups are banding together and finding ways to fix the situation. They plan to come to the Legislature with a plan that will better fund education in a way that won’t break the backs of small businesses.

That’s what should happen and that’s the best way to go. This is a discussion for the Legislature, and seeing businesses involved in the process is encouraging. The bottom line is Question 3 is bad policy and would be disastrous for the state, especially when businesses are ready and willing to work with the Legislature to find a better way forward.

If voters do the right thing and defeat Question 3, the burden will be on the governor and the Legislature to take the vote as a mandate. They must step up and address the needs of education and provide the proper tax policy to fund it. If they don’t, voters must hold them accountable at the next election, and a poorly worded ballot question would only be the start. The Sun endorses a no vote on Question 3.

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