Friday, March 15, 2013

To the Ballot Box We Go

So it's over. It's finally over. Today was the deadline, and The Education Initiative couldn't even get a vote.

So it's... Actually only just begun.

The Nevada Legislature took no action within the 40-day limit it had to pass or reject the measure, meaning Nevada voters now get to play policymaker and vote the margins tax up or down.

“I don’t believe the votes are there,” said Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, about the initiative measure.

Legislators of both parties never warmed to the tax on businesses that make $1 million or more per year in revenue. The Legislature gave the tax a show hearing in which its sponsor, the state teachers’ union, trotted out supporters who cheered for the tax. Business groups booed, and at least one legislator verbally ripped into a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce lobbyist who opposed the tax.

But the margins tax initiative petition never made it out of committee, and nobody brought any emergency measures to the Senate or Assembly floor to pass or reject it at the last minute because Democrats would not bring it to a vote.

“It’s going to the people either way,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks. “I’m focused on solving our problems so that we have education funding for the coming school year, not down the road.”

Remember what we discussed when the 76th session was coming to a close in June 2011? This was bound to happen. And now, it's finally happening.

Funny enough, a tax plan considered during that session is now manifest in The Education Initiative. Yet now, #NVLeg leadership on both sides agreed to punt because they didn't want the optics of turning down public education funding. Wow.

Oh, and whatever. If the Nevada Legislature can't do its job, then we the people must act. Since The Education Initiative couldn't even get a floor vote, it's time for this people's initiative petition to return to the people on next year's ballot. We can't afford to wait any longer to start solving our problems.

But wait, there's another twist. Yesterday, we discussed the fascinating turn of events regarding the emergence of Senate Republican Leader Michael Roberson's IP 1 alternative mining tax. Once Roberson and the rest of "The Dirty Half-dozen" saw the polling and shat their pants, they decided the only way to beat IP 1 is by creating competition. That's why they decided to ditch their own party's base and pick a fight with the mining industry.

But now, "The Dirty Half-dozen" IP 1 mining tax alternative is in deep legal jeopardy. Precisely because the Legislature failed to even vote on the actual IP 1, it's at best (for Roberson) unclear whether the Legislature can actually place an alternative to compete against it on next year's ballot. Local legal eagle Sean McDonald doesn't think an alternative can legally be presented as of now, and Jon Ralston is mourning over this.

Lawmakers, even those whispering a good game, have all but short-circuited the serious tax discussion for the next 80 days unless they propose some new package themselves and get two-thirds to back it (that would include a handful of Republicans, who would have to vote for it twice over a certain gubernatorial veto). That’s because a plain reading of Article 19, Section 2 indicates that unless the Legislature formally rejects a petition – not simply pretends it does not exist – it loses the ability to propose an alternative.

The language says “the statute or amendment to a statute proposed thereby shall be enacted or rejected by the Legislature without change or amendment within 40 days.” Pretty simple, right?

Put aside the argument that tax policy should not be made at the ballot, which of course it shouldn’t be. But the teachers were frustrated by the Legislature’s serial inaction, so they circumvented lawmakers and went to the ballot process, qualified the margins tax and forced lawmakers to take action within 40 days, as the article mandates. And now, because of lawmakers’ inert behavior once again, tax policy will be decided at the ballot next year, with no alternative to tax mining or business or anything else likely to survive a legal challenge if it were to happen.

This is where I can't help but roll my eyes. Yes, "ballot box budgeting" can be messy. I know from personal experience. Ralston seems to buy into Pete Ernaut's spin... Even though he's had to admit that what just happened was a complete clusterf**k!

For all the wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth over the fears of California style direct democracy coming to Nevada, we must ask this: Is it really a bad thing? California now has a budget surplus and additional education funding thanks to Prop 30. And Prop 30 was pursued because an extreme obstructionist minority refused to cooperate on realistic budget solutions.

Well, look at where we are now here in Nevada. Because the Governor and certain legislators refuse to consider realistic budget solutions, we have this impasse. How can we break that? That's why The Education Initiative will be going to voters next year.

Sure, in an ideal world, this wouldn't have to happen. However, we're not in an ideal world. We're in Nevada. In order to make this state a better place, we must build a more stable and diversified economy. And in order to do that, we must better invest in our public infrastructure. And if the Governor and Legislature can't act to make that happen, then we the people must.

So it's off to the ballot box we go.

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