Yes, there’s a budget, if you can call it that: a bloated monstrosity featuring the kind of ongoing over-20-percent spending growth that will either bankrupt the state or force voters to take things firmly in hand through a popularly enacted Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
And yes, the lawmakers passed a “property tax relief” plan -- which rather than limiting revenues to match previously approved municipal budgets instead sets unequal rate caps for rental versus owner-occupied property, a bizarre attempt to punish savings and investment that will almost certainly be challenged in court.
Where did the time go?
There were no terrorist attacks. There was no recession, causing any desperate scramble to come up with enough money to fund vital services.
Just the opposite. The big problem facing Nevada government -- the problem this nearly leaderless Legislature failed to solve or even address -- is that the unnecessary tax hikes of two years ago are diverting an unnecessary flood of wealth from the private sector (where it could be best invested in sensible innovation, job growth and diversification) into the hands of Carson City delegates without the moral fiber (with three or four exceptions) to say “It’s not ours; give it back.”
Instead, the lawmakers spent their time larding vast raises onto already unsustainable bureaucratic payrolls, onto employees whose pensions and lifetime health benefits will continue to sap at the state’s economic strength, in good times and bad, for decades to come.
And for the most part Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn joined wholeheartedly in the spend fest, calling around to his department heads to ask if they had any “one-time” wish lists, any special toys they’d like purchased with all this extra money.
Past promises -- that the state college in Henderson would get fancy new buildings only if private industry donated the funds; that the Millennium Scholarships would go only to the truly deserving and would be funded only with tobacco settlement money (originally extorted for another purpose altogether)?
That was then; this is now! We’re knee high in greenbacks, boys!
A quarter million dollars for a new Center of Basque Studies? Bring it on! Half a million to rebuild the old steam railroad from Virginia City to Carson City? Heaven forfend we might just invite private entrepreneurs to give it a try. As it is, I wish I had just 10 percent of the amount above half a million the job will really end up costing. Maybe they can get the same contractor who built the new Las Vegas Justice Center, or our fine Canadien monorail.
$25,000 to buy a single Indian basket for the Nevada State Museum? What’s the matter -- couldn’t they find two?
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, who denied any of this was “pork,” asked taxpayers for suggestions on how to cut spending. Perhaps he’ll bury the list in a time capsule in the foundation of the new Hooterville U. -- it’s a cinch he never looked at it.
Meantime, there was plenty of time to pass a special law allowing “public officers” to use tax-paid government time, property, and equipment for campaign activities. There was plenty of time to pass another special law discouraging citizens from filing complaints about the behavior of law enforcement officers, and $22 million in new kindergarten funding to take children away from their parents a year earlier, despite a general consensus that parental involvement is the most important factor in a child’s education success.
(Or are they only going to do this to poor, minority parents? Well, that’s OK, then.)
Everyone knows where all this will lead, sooner rather than later. Rather than cutting taxes -- and budgetary expectations -- the lawmakers squandered more than half their windfall hiring new employees and creating new programs which will limit their ability to make cuts in future. Every program has to be permanent and fully funded, after all! Every employee must continue to get double-digit raises and better benefits, year after year! Otherwise we’ll be sternly lectured, in 2007 or 2009, that there are “needs that are not being met.”
(To his credit, Gov. Guinn did seek to save $500 million over the next 30 years without costing current or retired state employees a thing, simply by ending the promise that state employees hired hereafter will get subsidized health care after they retire. The proposal died in the Democratic Assembly.)
And when the next economic plateau or slowdown arrives? What will the cry be, then?
Like Gene Hackman’s evil sheriff in “The Quick and the Dead,” doddering legislative leaders who have served 20 years and more in a state that enacted 12-year term limits a decade ago will exclaim, “Is this how you thank us? You worthless toadies aren’t even generating enough wealth to keep our happy carnival fully funded. It appears we have no choice but to ... raise your taxes!”
The delegates had a surplus of more than $606 million of which they’ll reluctantly give back just half, and they couldn’t figure out how to spend the remainder in 120 days. Instead, the Democrats actually stalled the session’s end, holding out for Millennium Scholarships to go to illegal immigrants!
And now they dare congratulate themselves on a “job well done.”
It would be tempting to call for “new leadership” in Carson City. But that would imply we already had some.