Monday, May 16, 2011

As the Chamber Talks... We Need to Act

Every legislative session, all eagerly await the recommendations from a certain set of lobbyists. And this year, there seems to be even more excitement/angst surrounding them.

Every organization at the table in Carson City plays the game of give and take. For years, the [Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce] has been the voice against implementing various businesses taxes. Not unlike the Nevada Development Authority, an organization with which it often collaborates, it sold the argument that Las Vegas is a great place to do business because taxes are low and stable. This year, though, a number of studies, think tanks and interest groups have found that the state’s education system has a greater role in Nevadans’ quality of life than many previously thought. Nearly every report recommends the state strengthen its education system to build toward economic diversification.

That hasn’t been lost on the chamber, which has built stronger bridges with the education community in the past year. Crosson embraced new UNLV President Neal Smatresk; now, Smatresk is a member of the chamber’s board of trustees. McMillan said maintaining a close relationship with UNLV and with Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones is a priority.

“Clearly, education is important to the future of Southern Nevada,” McMillan said. “We all know that. Nobody wants to see teachers take pay cuts. These are very difficult and complicated issues. Our government affairs committee is taking a close look at the impacts of the governor’s budget.”

Nevada’s education system lands at the bottom of numerous lists ranking education quality. Further cuts are outlined in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget proposal to close a multimillion-dollar funding gap. Would lawmakers allow the state’s system to fall into a bigger hole? What would that say about the state’s commitment to education and economic diversification? Would the chamber be willing to support a tax increase as an investment in the state’s economic future? The answer to that last question appears to be “maybe.”

So the chamber, of all people, is the last great hope to save Nevada? Really? Or is there a catch? Desert Beacon may have caught one. Must we sacrifice out public servants at the altar?

The trading position appears reasonably obvious — the Chambers will not oppose some concessions in terms of taxation IF they can achieve the limitation of public employee collective bargaining rights at the local level, and continue the policy of no collective bargaining for state employees. In sum, the posture appears to be: “We will give you a little — certainly not more rational taxation on mining, or Heaven Forfend discuss amending the state constitution to incorporate a progressive income tax — if you (labor) will give up retirement benefits, health care insurance benefits, collective bargaining rights in terms of mediation/arbitration, subjects included in the collective bargaining process, and allow school districts to do away with salary schedules and seniority.

Thus, no one should be surprised at the latest amendment to S.B. 98, emanating from the Chamber of Commerce which would allow local entities to (1) renegotiate contracts if revenues come in 5% below expectations, (2) eliminate binding arbitration, (3) remove public sector managers and administrators from the bargaining process, (4) and require that newly negotiated contracts take effect at the beginning of the prior contract’s expiration. [NNB] If this sounds familiar — like the initial position of the Chambers of Commerce listed above — you’re right; that is precisely what it is.

Horse trading is a fine old legislative art in these United States. However, what the Chambers of Commerce appears to have in mind is trading a pony (minimal concessions on taxation) for a working saddle horse. IF public employees are willing to give up retirement benefits, retiree’s health care benefits, arbitration, subjects of mandatory collective bargaining, salary schedules, seniority clauses, and evergreen clauses — then Maybe the Chamber will ‘negotiate’ on tax increases.

There is a difference between horse trading and hostage taking, although it seems that the Chambers of Commerce in Nevada are more willing to indulge in the latter than the former during this session of the Legislature.

So what can we do? Basically, it all comes down to knowing how to play hardball. Right now, that's what the Vegas Chamber is doing... And progressives need to step up with their own.

Wait... What is that I hear? Sandoville? Someone's arriving to "Wake Up Nevada"? That's right. Many of my very courageous friends & family are in Carson City right now, literally CAMPING right outside The Legislature to make it known to them that we the people won't accept any more of these cheap and degrading games that jeopardize our future.

As many as 200 students, social service workers, teachers and progressive activists plan to live in tents during Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as they host events and lobby legislators.

The agenda could include events at both the Capitol and the Legislature, said Jan Gilbert, lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which has helped coordinate the event.

“We hope to change some of the legislators minds to increase the revenue base,” she said. “We know there need to be cuts, but also revenue.”

Students are again planning to bring buses from Las Vegas, as they did March 21 for a rally for revenue at the Legislature. Some say it was the largest rally ever held at the Legislature.

“We know that enough legislators are on the fence about supporting new revenue to help education that we can win the fight, but we cannot win it without direct action,” said Mike Flores of Progress NOW, another sponsor of the event, in an email.

This is simply amazing. And frankly, we need to keep seeing this new (or renewed?) spirit of activism. We've had to learn the hard way that we can't always count on "big bid'ness" to be "benevolent" enough to throw the plebes some crumbs, depending on how much revenue they can extract from the casinos.

Hopefully, The Las Vegas & Reno/Sparks Chambers will realize that saving our state by restoring our public infrastructure (starting with public education) is more important than silly ideological battles over public servants' workplace rights and benefits. But in the mean time, we can't wait for them to say the right words. We need to act.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely feel that education can make a difference in Nevada's growth. There is a direct correlation between education and prosperity. Not only that but less civil unrest and crime as well.

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