It only took 121 days for lawmakers to ignore tax reform, be good to gays and fawn over the Ghost Rider
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The Nevada Legislature met in 2013, aware that its solemn duty was to address the profound issues affecting every citizen of the state, most especially a tax and funding system that everyone, from all parties and industries, agreed was completely dysfunctional.
And so, 120 days-plus-one after the elected leaders began deliberations, we are left with almost the exact same tax system. However, in response to more than 50 years of committees and studies that have found Nevada’s tax system to be regressive, inadequate and foolish, the Legislature has created a committee to issue a study on what, exactly, the problems are with the existing tax system.
That is not to say, of course, that the Legislature failed to identify and resolve a crisis. It did pass legislation giving a multimillion-dollar tax break for big movie productions personally requested by movie star Nic Cage, a Beverly Hills High School graduate perhaps best known for his recurring role in the Ghost Rider film franchise.
Also, marijuana. Faced with the crumbling condition of the schools, the Legislature approved medical-marijuana dispensaries.
The senators and Assembly members seriously debated tax reform, specifically a proposal to provide the public schools with $255 million from business — but then decided against it after businesses pointed out that they didn’t like it. So everyone laughed and went across the street for a tall mug of their favorite frosty beverage.
But, lo, despite a last-minute special session that Gov. Brian Sandoval proclaimed on our CityLife deadline, because why not and thanks a lot, the Gang of 63 did manage to get some work done during yet another weird and wacky session in Carson City, passing a $6.5 billion budget than even includes a 25 percent increase for the public schools.
• The Legislature passed a resolution that might eventually allow gay men and lesbians to one day endure the same misery of marriage enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
• In response to public dismay that the incredibly lucrative gold-mining industry pays an effective tax rate to state and local governments of about 3 percent, the Legislature passed a resolution suggesting that the industry might have to pay a wee bit more, if the voters agree, in a few years, but just remember, it wasn’t the Legislature, it was those pesky voters.
• Recognizing the cruel difficulty many Nevadans face when seeking a place in which to gamble, the elected leaders passed a bill that allows a person to bet their child’s college fund from home, electronically, with online gaming.
• Undocumented immigrants now can be a tad more documented with a “driver privilege card,” which gives them the privilege of paying for car insurance just like some tiny percentage of other drivers in Nevada.
• And the Legislature moved to restrict gun sales to violent, convicted felons and certifiably crazy people through a requirement for universal background checks. Sandoval, however, responding to the demands of his “base,” which recognized the importance of allowing violent felons to buy semi-automatic weapons, promised to veto the bill.
• Early in the session, the Legislature showed that it can stand up and do what needs to be done when it expelled Steven Brooks, an assemblyman from North Las Vegas who allegedly had threatened his colleagues and eventually got in a fight with California police officers and is in jail.
• And in response to Gov. Sandoval (motto: No New Taxes) and his demand to increase taxes, just not on businesses or gaming, the Legislature moved quickly in the special session to raise sales taxes to support local police in Clark County. The tax would of course disproportionately affect people of limited income in Las Vegas, because those slackers are only paying 9 percent of their money to support the government, compared to 1 percent for the wealthiest Clark County residents. Nevada is already one of the 10 most regressive tax states in the country, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, but as long as there is still room to move to No. 1, why not? The measure passed early Tuesday morning in the very special session.
To gauge the real success of the Legislative session, however, one has to look at what failed to pass.
• A proposal recognizing that people are simply having too much fun in Nevada, and which would have added a couple of dollars to a typical movie ticket, got lost in the shuffle, despite being the signature tax reform championed by Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
• Recognizing the social costs of having the third-worst teen-pregnancy rate in the country, the Democratic majority in the Senate said “ix-nay” to a proposal for “ex-say education-way” in the schools that would include forbidden topics such as “irth-bay ontrol-cay.” Dodged a bullet there!
• On a related note, the Legislature quashed a proposal that would have raised to 21 the age limit for naked young women to dance, naked, in front of or on top of fat, hairy men.
• The Legislature left in place the state maximum speed limit of 75 (instead of raising it to 85) because either A) everyone recognizes that driving 75 mph is simply the safe way to handle the incredibly long, empty highways of the Silver State, or B) speeding tickets are the leading source of government revenue in much of rural Nevada.
As always, there are winners and losers of the session. The environmental crowd took home some trophies — the Legislature reversed the “screw Tahoe” bill of the 2011 session, preserving the California-Nevada compact to conserve environmental quality at Lake Tahoe. And the conservationists were odd bedfellows with NV Energy, working together to pass legislation that would quickly wean the Silver State off of coal.
But, as in previous sessions, gaming, businesses and mining came through the session with nary a scratch. Onward, friends, for the next session of the Nevada Legislature is just two short years away!