Gov. Brian Sandoval worked legislative magic in securing passage of a much needed education reform package and the tax increases necessary to implement the program.
Surprisingly, to this writer, the overall performance of the Republican dominated legislature was not as bad as expected.
And, Mr. Sandoval’s work is not finished.
The governor’s much-needed education reform was embodied in 26 bills, 25 of which were enacted into law. That would be an amazing accomplishment in any legislative body and was almost miraculous in the 78th Session of the Nevada Legislature.
Mr. Sandoval and the surprisingly progressive Republican leadership in the Senate and Assembly are to be commended for crushing the naysayers and anti-tax wing of their party. Democrats provided the margin to pass both the education bills and the tax increases, upholding traditional values of their party. A strange but welcomed alliance, indeed.
The inexplicable anomaly of the education package is the so-called voucher or choice bill. Proposed by Mr. Sandoval, strongly supported by Republican members and opposed by almost all Democrats, the law allows the state to pay an estimated $5,000 to parents for each child who attends a private school, including parochial institutions, or is home schooled. Aside from constitutional issues, that program undermines the education afforded to all students, regardless of economic status, by public schools.
The governor’s package of tax increases, though desperately needed, is an ugly fiscal combination. It continues and expands the regressive, inequitable and inadequate revenue structure in place for decades.
The legislative session began with the Republican caucus in the Assembly in a state of dysfunction. Designated Speaker-to-be Ira Hansen was dethroned before being crowned, and then eventual Speaker John Hambrick had trouble deciding what to do with Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore. Team Hansen-Fiore continued to be thorns in the sides of the Republican leadership. Stronger language could be used to describe their session-long antics. Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Anjeanette Damon described the final day as a “torrent of confusion and flaring tempers” and the Assembly “devolved into utter confusion….”
Some really harmful bills passed, such as removing the payment of prevailing wages on public construction projects (later partially restored), public employee collective bargaining restrictions and anti-consumer construction defect laws. But a host of horrendous proposals died, dealing with a campus carry gun law, voter ID requirements, parental notice of teenage abortion, transgender bathrooms and conversion of PERS pensions to 401K-like plans. Again, kudos to the Republican leadership and Democrats.
It’s good Mr. Sandoval has announced he’s not running for the U. S. Senate in 2016 because Chuck Muth, president of the far right-wing Citizen Outreach, fired a shot across the bow of the governor’s tax program. In his column of June 4, Mr. Muth clearly warned a referendum would be put on the 2016 ballot to overturn the education tax increases. The so-called Commerce Tax is particularly vulnerable as it’s a gross margins tax, similar to the one defeated by a four-to-one vote in the 2014 referendum.
Mr. Sandoval should devote the remainder of his term to building a statewide consensus in support of tax reform, including a constitutional amendment to authorize corporate and personal income taxes. A special legislative session with that agenda would be especially bold. As a lame duck governor, this will not be an easy task. But the effort must begin, and Brian Sandoval is the man of the hour.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at email@example.com.