Wednesday, May 18, 2011

People vs. the Powerful?

Do you remember when Al Gore was mocked eleven years ago, even by some Democrats, for speaking of the real dynamics of "the people vs. the powerful" in Washington? In so many ways, that can't be any more true today. I mean, look at last night's Senate vote on repealing egregious oil subsidies!

Unfortunately, we're also seeing this at play at the state level. Right now, the budgetary wrangling in Carson City hinges on not whether to hit public servants, but over how hard to punch them.

Democratic lawmakers want to raise taxes. Republicans say there will be no deal unless there are long-term reforms to reduce government overhead by cutting public employee benefits and making changes to collective bargaining.

Democrats say Republicans and their allies in business are asking for the moon. Republicans say Democrats are offering nothing substantial to warrant compromising their principles by voting for tax increases.

Both sides accuse the other of not negotiating in good faith.

Such was the standoff in the state capital Tuesday as Democrats circulated a plan, obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, that opened negotiations between the parties.

The document listed the reforms Democrats would agree to if Republicans support a tax increase.

Key among them is collective bargaining, the process followed by counties, cities and school districts to negotiate contracts with employee unions.

Wow. Just wow. We already have the cheapest state government in the nation! And the only reason why public employees are paid the way they are is because we don't have very many of them. But OMG, there's a budget deficit and someone has to attack the workers because we can't possibly blame the corporate powers that be that always manage to block common sense tax reform!

But while The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce was throwing yet another hissy fit over public servants, students and workers camped outside. The contrast couldn't be clearer.

And in an even more amazing feat, the "Sandoville" campers managed to get a few Republican Senators onto the floor (literally!!!) to talk with them.

Several lawmakers sat on the floor outside their offices today as they talked to activists who have been camping on the Capitol lawn since yesterday night in support of new revenue.

The impromptu, hour-long debate featured a variety of popular budget topics including teacher pay, textbooks in schools, higher education tuition and taxes. [...]

“I’ve never seen this before,” said Warren Hardy, a former legislator and current lobbyist who watched the debate. “It’s a great dialog. If I were still a senator, I would be right in the middle of it because I think that’s the respect these people deserve.”

Republicans fielded a variety of questions from tough critics, some of whom are from organizations like Progress NOW Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Those groups have supported Democratic plans for new taxes and have opposed Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

One girl asked about a shortage of textbooks in her Clark County School District high school.

It's nice to see these legislators get down and acknowledge the real people who went to Carson City to meet with them. No really, I mean it. It's not that often one experiences those "real moments" in there.

Still, it's obvious that we have plenty more work to do. It's becoming increasingly clear that a good number of Republican legislators recognize they have to reach some sort of compromise with Democrats, and that the compromise will likely involve new revenue. However in the mean time, they are pushing the Las Vegas Chamber to play hardball with Democratic leaders and extract as many labor concessions as possible to get as little progressive tax reform as possible. This dynamic must change, and it's great to see the "Sandoville" campers putting all of this madness into proper perspective.

So keep those letters to legislators flowing. Something's happening up there, and it's about time we the people have a say in this.

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