Sunday, February 3, 2013

Stuck in the Middle With Who?

So tomorrow's the big day. It's that time of the biennium again. Who's excited?


Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has been a cautious head of state, is facing re-election and might have higher political aspirations, making him loath to propose any sweeping, controversial changes. Democratic leadership is afraid to admit they want to raise taxes, and they don’t have the two-thirds majority to raise money by themselves. Republicans don’t control either house — for the third consecutive session — and seem content to follow Sandoval’s careful lead.

On top of that, a fifth of the state’s 63 lawmakers are freshmen — these are folks who are still figuring out where the bathrooms are in the Legislative Building and are leading important policy committees.

Against that backdrop, the 2013 Legislature looks for now to be defined not by big policy pushes or pitched battles over taxes and spending, as have past legislative sessions. Instead, it could be ancillary policy issues and the personalities of untested leadership that dominate the stage.

In other words, expect more of the failed status quo. Hardly any one wants to rock the boat. Instead, Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Ambitious?) would rather enjoy some smooth sailing and enjoying of the "sunset" (2009/11 tax deal). So far, even a few Democrats in Carson City would rather bask in the radioactive glow of the "bipartisan consensus" (of no real solutions for the state) than stick their necks out in favor of actual tax reform. And of course, many Republican legislators (especially the ones from the "tea party" collection) would rather just pretend that we don't need no stinkin' guv'mint or "TAXUS!!!!" for nuthin'.

However, there is something emerging on the horizon that will nonetheless shake up the status quo. Whether Brian Sandoval and most legislators like it or not, The Education Initiative will be on their agenda. The Nevada Supreme Court just made sure of that. And with Nevada's public schools so woefully underfunded, legislators will face pressure to do something.

But then again, do we really want them to do something? While some Democratic legislators are sticking their necks out for tax reform, leaders are already facing immense pressure from "the gaming-mining-lobbying industrial complex" not to rock the sinking ship boat. That's why we're now hearing talk of "revenue-neutral tax reform", something that defeats the purpose of reform, which is to raise enough revenue to properly fund our public infrastructure. So may progressives and public schools be better off with the Legislature simply punting The Education Initiative to voters next year, even though that means they must wait an additional 18 months for more revenue?

Perhaps we will be proven wrong. Perhaps 28+ Assembly Members and 14+ Senators will have the courage to actually tackle real tax reform, real support for public education, and real economic diversification. But what if there still aren't that many come June?

As of now, it looks like we're in for another status quo kind of session... Except for The Education Initiative. But will legislators act? And do we actually want them to act?

Last year, key Sandoval adviser Pete Ernaut sounded the alarms on possible ballot initiatives, warning that Nevada may soon become like California if we embark on that path. As of now, California has a balanced budget, a higher public education budget, and even a higher credit rating thanks to Prop 30, the progressive tax reform initiative that passed last November. So will "ballot box budgeting" really be all that bad next year? And where does that leave legislators this year?

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