Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Meanwhile in Washington, Dean Heller Doubles Down on Killing Medicare

Even though it feels like most of the action lately has been coming out of Carson City, there have also been some interesting developments from DC. For one, Dean Heller voted (again) to kill Medicare. And all of a sudden, he has a fight on his hands.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has the distinction of taking a second vote in support of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan.

Heller was one of 40 Republicans who voted for the Ryan budget plan in the Senate on Wednesday. He also voted for it last month when he was still a member of the House. Heller was sworn in to replace former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) in early May. The House had voted on Ryan's plan in April.

The Nevada Democrats quickly sent out a release that foreshadows the attacks likely to come in next year's Senate race: "Unelected senator doubles down on plan to end Medicare."

Of course, Republicans (and their corporate media enablers) are now crying about "Mediscare". They may call telling the truth "scare tactics", but the facts say otherwise.

[...T]he key consequence of privatization would be a steep increase in the per unit cost of health care services. Medicare is able to use its semi-monopsony status to drive down prices. If privatized the cost of treating the typical 65 year-old would increase by around 40 percent. Paul Ryan’s version of privatization then “saves” a tiny bit of money for the taxpayer by simply paying a much smaller share of the now much-higher bill. Then he promises to save large sums of money over the long term by ensuring that the share of the higher bill that the government covers will shrink drastically over time. This shrinkage in the value of the government health care coupon either won’t occur (in which case all privatization will do is increase costs) or else it will occur (in which case over 100% of the savings will come from people going without health care services they need) and in either case the consequences are scary.

And Dean Heller's response? Oh darn, Shelley Berkley is being "so mean!" Never mind that Heller is proud to have voted twice this year to kill Medicare and force seniors to spend more money (they may not have) on prescription drugs, preventive care, and much more.

So why again is Dean Heller in Washington? Is he really representing Nevada?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Deja Vu?

Why are we here? Why does this feel so familiar? Why does it feel like I've heard this from Ralston before?

Because the solution will be only about money, a number arbitrarily chosen as it always is to garner the necessary votes, with policy considerations left behind (or never even raised) in the Rush to Close. Once again, when lawmakers have returned home, the state’s unsustainable tax structure will remain in place (why do you think we have the country’s highest unemployment rate?), as Nevada gamers look to the Far East, the higher and lower education systems retain their cellar-dwelling positions, and options diminish with every myopic biennial exercise in futility.

We are here because of shortsighted Legislatures, governors and, yes, even the judicial branch. We are here because of rapacious special interests with no investment in the state’s education system and social safety net. And we are here because of an apathetic populace — I saw more energy and involvement in one session from college students than in a quarter-century from those who should be even more active.

The common metaphor for the end of sessions is a train wreck. But this locomotive has been chugging along for decades, a recurring Murder on the Nevada Express, where everyone is to blame and no one takes responsibility.

But wait, do we have to keep repeating the same mistakes? Must Nevada Government always look like such a train wreck?

Thus, we will have the same result we have every other year, a cobbling together of unrelated parts to build a tax and budget monster that makes Frankenstein look attractive.

As this session comes to an end, the major special interests are expressing a familiar fear. Gaming, mining and Big Business are more afraid of a different kind of ballot royale next year — a raft of initiatives to tax them because people are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore.

Generally, the business elite need not worry because labor and the teachers can be co-opted or they misplay their hands. And the chances of a well-funded, effective effort sprouting from the grass roots assumes someone would step up to seed the movement.

And so we are where we always are.

OK, here's where I diverge from Ralston. Are we really where "we always are"? I do agree with him that the usual suspects in Carson City are, but what about the real people outside?

What if Nevadans are ready to change course? And what if state government is forced to change course?

The Supreme Court's ruling should highlight for the governor and his anti-tax allies in the Legislature that Nevada, the state, is living on borrowed time and from paycheck to paycheck like many Nevada families. We are literally one accident, one natural or man-made disaster or other unforeseen crisis away from bankruptcy.

Dismantling our already-strained governmental and educational institutions breaks faith with Nevadans, past and future, who expect responsible leadership in times of crisis, not blind adherence to an ideology that serves no one well. Nearly all elected officials will admit, off the record, that we are neither overtaxed nor adequately served by the bare-bones budget that currently exists.

Our consistently low ranking on both tax burden and services is nothing to be proud of. This new financial crisis should wake open the eyes of the governor and his allies for a fresh look at the long-term health of our state and hope for the future.

We have limped through the current recession without leadership during the last governor's administration, barely keeping the ship of state afloat by using the much maligned, and now much missed, federal stimulus funding. Do we really want four more years of failed leadership and lack of vision from the Capitol?

Remember the definition of insanity? We can't keep doing the same thing while expecting different results! We can't keep robbing Peter to pay Paul. We can't keep playing the same "accounting tricks" that ultimately got Enron into trouble. We can't keep avoiding reality.

The Nevada Supreme Court's ruling was a brutal reality check. And even if Brian Sandoval and most legislators continue to ignore the overarching message of that ruling to play more games and hobble together some sort of "Frankenstein budget", Nevadans are getting fed up with this nonsense. People out here are hurting, and they are wondering when they will see more job openings and how their kids will be able to get into college. Meanwhile in Carson, the debate is all about how much workers need to be attacked before schools can be allowed to stay open.

Wonderful. (snark)

But what if we don't want to keep going down this same road?

Perhaps we're ready for something different. Perhaps we don't want to take it any more. Perhaps we don't want to feel this "deja vu" ever again.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yet Another Redistricting Scenario!

Since it's looking increasingly likely Nevada redistricting will end up in court, I wanted to look again at how The Nevada Supreme Court will end up redrawing Nevada's Congressional Map. I also wanted to provide an update on what I'm hearing on the ground on who will be running where.

Here's the dilemma: The horribly nasty state budget stalemate has pretty much infected everything in Carson City, including the usually congenial redistricting process. And even though it's increasingly likely The Legislature will finally compromise on a budget/tax deal, at the same time the clock is quickly running out and there may not be any time left for a compromise on redistricting.

So what are you waiting for? Let's get to the map!

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NV-02 (The Dark Green District)

Population: 675,282
69.3% White (73.7% VAP)

The State of Play

Wow! We've seen plenty of change here! Sharron Angle looks to be out, Kate Marshall is now officially in, and the entire September special election is totally up in the air!

But regardless of what happens with that special election this year, the court has to redraw the district for next year. I think there's a good chance the judges will direct their aides to keep all of Washoe County (Reno area) intact, then connect it to Carson City, Douglas County, Storey County, Lyon County, and the Fallon area of Churchill County. This essentially makes the greater Reno-Carson metro area, so it would meet the bar for communities of interest. The seat also includes the northern rural counties of Pershing, Lander, Eureka, and Elko.

While this district has been historically (VERY!) Republican, the changing demographics of Washoe County are leading to much changed politics of this area. In addition, the changing dynamics of the Nevada Republican Party will also shake up the balance of power here. While a moderate Republican is likely favored here in any election, Republican primary voters have been demanding more ideological purity as of late, and may very well nominate teabaggers doomed to lose in general elections.

Who's All In?

As I hinted at above, Kate Marshall is now running for Congress. And if she happens to win in September, I figure the state Democratic Party will ensure next year's primary is cleared for her. And since Marshall lives in Reno, there's virtually no chance of her being redistricted out of NV-02.

Now on the other hand, things have been far more turbulent on the Republican side up here. Sharron Angle is definitely out of the special election, and now political observers are wondering if maybe, just maybe, she'll also stay out of next year's election. If so, then Kirk Lippold's political life will get that much easier. He received a huge boost earlier this month when former Rep. Barbara Vucanovich (R-NV GOP Old Guard) endorsed him. And now with Angle out of the race, he will have an easier time consolidating the teabagger vote.

At the same time, State Senator Greg Brower (R-Reno) and former Nevada GOP Chair Mark Amodei will have a tough fight ahead. They're trying to balance throwing some bones to the extreme right to appease the teabaggers while looking sane enough to hold enough moderates to win a general election. Good luck with that! Perhaps Brower or Amodei can pull that off in the general, but first there's the primary. And in the event either Kate Marshall or Kirk Lippold wins the special election this year, will they try again next year?

The Wild Cards

At this point, it's all on the teabaggers. Will they unite behind Lippold? Can they tolerate Amodei or Brower? Will they allow for another Sharron Angle comeback? Only time will tell.

Recent Election Results

US-Pres 2008
Obama (D) 49.4%
McCain (R) 48.2%

Estimated NV-Sen 2010
Sharron Angle (R) 50%
Harry Reid (D) 44%

Estimated NV-Gov 2010
Brian Sandoval (R) 63%
Rory Reid (D) 34%

Current Race Rating: Leans Republican for now, Tossup if special election produces big surprise

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NV-04 (The Red District)

Population: 675,251
61.5% White (65.0% VAP)

The State of Play

We've all been waiting for where Nevada's shiny new Congressional District lands. But now that The Nevada Supreme Court has final say, it's looking like the new seat will land on a wide stretch of land going from rural Churchill County to expansive Nye and Lincoln Counties to the sprawling western Clark County (Greater Las Vegas) suburbs and exurbs. This new district forces a "shotgun wedding" of the Deep Republican Central Nevada rural areas with the more Democratic leaning Spring Valley neighborhoods and swingy Summerlin and Northwest neighborhoods of Clark County. It may not be the prettiest district, but it's probably the court's best option to unite communities of interest in the western (Las Vegas) valley while meeting population requirements.

Oh, and since the district pretty much splits right down the middle, NV-04 isn't a "slam dunk" for either Democrats or Republicans.

Who's All In?

This really changes everything. On the Republican side, the new lines may very well encourage State Senator Barbara Cegavske (R-Summerlin) to run, as she's been yearning lately for a promotion to DC. Now she finally has a district to make her dreams come true. State Senator Elizabeth Halseth (R-Southwest Vegas) may also be encouraged by local teabaggers to run, even though her house may be outside this district.

But unless Republicans can agree on a more moderate candidate who can carry the Clark County portion of NV-04, they may be in trouble. Many of these parts of Vegas have been growing more diverse and trending more Democratic as of late, so Democrats may actually be favored next year if President Obama remains popular, a moderate Summerlin area Democrat can win the nomination, and the Republicans get too teabaggy for voters here. Paging Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown (D-Northwest Vegas)?

The Wild Cards

You mean NV-04 isn't wild enough for you?! ;-)

Recent Election Results

US-Pres 2008
Obama (D) 51.6%
McCain (R) 46.2%

Estimated NV-Sen 2010
Sharron Angle (R) 48%
Harry Reid (D) 48%

Estimated NV-Gov 2010
Brian Sandoval (R) 56%
Rory Reid (D) 40%

Current Race Rating: Tossup

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NV-01 (The Blue District)

Population: 675,148
29.0% White (34.5% VAP), 14.7% African-American (14.8% VAP), 47.0% Latino (41.1% VAP)

The State of Play

Here's where things get even wilder! One of the brightest and hottest flash points of the redistricting battle in Nevada has been over minority representation, and in particular what to do with Nevada's Latinos. Republicans have claimed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) demands a Latino majority seat, while Democrats have claimed Latinos should have enough sway in multiple districts to maximize opportunity. At this point, I suspect the court will throw out both parties' maps and split the middle on the reasoning. This probably means we will see NV-01 become a VRA coalition seat based in North Las Vegas and the older, more diverse neighborhoods of Las Vegas (city, mainly Downtown, East Las Vegas, and West Las Vegas) with a fairly strong (38-43%) Latino voting aged population (VAP) plurality.

Who's All In?

So if this is what the court settles upon, then this changes everything on who will win NV-01 next year. State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) has been considered the early frontrunner here, but this district creates major geographic and demographic challenges for him. In addition, as The Legislature closes its 76th session with a total meltdown over the state budget and the progressive Democratic base is becoming increasingly frustrated with party leadership over the lack of progress on implementing progressive tax reform and securing more public education funding, Horsford may pay the ultimate price for this.

All this time, it's been rumored that freshman State Senator Ruben Kihuen (D-North Las Vegas), a rapidly rising Latino star in Carson City, has been waiting in the wings. This may be his perfect opportunity, as Steven Horsford's political woes surface and Nevada's Latinos are looking for new and exciting leaders.

The Wild Cards

I've occasionally heard that North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck (R) may want a big promotion some time soon, but I suspect she realizes what she has to do to win a Republican primary here probably won't help her win over the voters she needs to succeed in this very heavily Democratic minority-majority district.

Recent Election Results

US-Pres 2008
Obama (D) 69.1%
McCain (R) 28.8%

Estimated NV-Sen 2010
Harry Reid (D) 65%
Sharron Angle (R) 30%

Estimated NV-Gov 2010
Rory Reid (D) 58%
Brian Sandoval (R) 37%

Current Race Rating: Safe Democratic

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NV-03: The Purple District

Population: 674,870
56.7% White (60.6% VAP)

The State of Play

For the last decade, NV-03 has been the "fair fight district" that Republicans thought they could keep a firm grasp upon, until they struggled to save Jon Porter in 2006, only to see him go down in flames in 2008. Joe Heck then turned the district Red again in 2010, but only barely (winning by fewer than 2,000 votes and earning only 48%). Republican legislators had been hoping they could reach a deal with Democrats to give Heck a friendlier NV-03 in 2012. And while there's a faint chance of some last minute deal that allows for a budget that continues the 2009 taxes while throwing the GOP this bone, it's looking increasingly unlikely. Instead, it seems like The Nevada Supreme Court will ultimately draw out Joe Heck's fate.

And if the court really looks at communities of interest, then Heck will be in for quite the rough rise. This NV-03 is drawn to reunite almost the entire East Side, which is heavily Democratic, then swing south to swingy Henderson, take in the increasingly Democratic leaning Southwest valley suburbs (west of I-15, south of 215), take in heavily Republican Boulder City, then stretch all the way out to the California border at Primm and Arizona border at Laughlin. The end result is a NV-03 that is slightly more Democratic than its current incarnation, and that may spell real trouble for teabagger darling Heck.

Who's All In?

So what will Joe Heck do? It seems like he's been operating on the assumption he will get at least a slightly redder district, but now he's at the mercy of judges who are supposed to put aside partisan politics. Will Republicans finally lose this district for good?

Enter Dina Titus. She has been itching for a(nother) political comeback since she lost to Heck in a painfully close election. Even though she was probably planning on running in a safer seat, this is now her best opportunity to return to Congress. This district reunites her long time East Side base, includes all the Henderson areas she's known to do well in, and drops the Summerlin and Northwest suburbs that caused her the most problems in 2008 and 2010. This may very well be the best Dina can hope for considering the court now redraws the lines.

The Wild Cards

Early this year, State Assembly Speaker John Oceguera (D-Silverado Ranch) sounded like a possible Congressional candidate. And perhaps he will still feel the itch to run. But at this point, he has a much tougher hill to climb. Now that The Legislature is in so much chaos in its final days, he will have a harder time convincing Democratic primary voters he's their champion fighter.

At the same time, Joe Heck may have yet another headache if he tries to shift back to the center in a last attempt to save his political career. So far he's had an easy relationship with teabaggers because he gives them the vast majority of what they want. However, what they want is NOT what we needs to do to win an otherwise Democratic leaning district. If Heck pulls back on issues like Paul Ryan's Medicare dismantling, he will probably risk losing the GOP primary. Will teabaggers ask Elizabeth Halseth to run here? Or will they turn to one of their statewide 2010 also rans?

Funny enough, it's increasingly looking like Dina Titus will have an easier primary than most expected early this year. With Rory Reid definitely out, John Oceguera possibly staying out, and Joe Heck at greater risk of getting booted out, Dina may have the last laugh after all.

Recent Election Results

US-Pres 2008
Obama (D) 55.7%
McCain (R) 42.2%

Estimated NV-Sen 2010
Harry Reid (D) 52%
Sharron Angle (R) 43%

Estimated NV-Gov 2010
Brian Sandoval (R) 52%
Rory Reid (D) 45%

Current Race Rating: Leans Democratic

So there you have it. This is another glimpse at what the final results of a court drawn Nevada map may look like.

I know this may scare some folks here who were hoping for two or three safe Democratic seats, but remember this. Nevada's demographics gave shifted rapidly in the last two decades, resulting in a huge political realignment that led to President Obama's stunning 12.5% win in 2008 and Harry Reid's shocking 5.6% win in 2010. While there have been plenty of ups and downs in the last three election cycles, Democrats overall continue to be on an upswing and demographic trends look to continue helping Democrats keep a firm grasp on the intensely urban NV-01, recapture the suburban-but-diversifying NV-03, become more competitive in the transitioning NV-02, and stake a claim on the up-for-grabs NV-04. Maybe Democrats shouldn't be afraid of a court drawn map after all.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Meanwhile, About That Budget...

Folks in Carson City are still trying to figure out how deep their troubles are...

In a late night press conference, director of Administration Andrew Clinger said the potential budget hole created by the Supreme Court decision in the Clean Water Coalition case could strip $656.7 million from the governor's proposed budget.

He said the decision if read broadly could deny the state not only the $62 million in water use funding but the 9 cent property tax rate from Clark and Washoe counties worth some $121 million, the school bond reserves from nine Nevada counties estimated at $247 million and the indigent accident fund money — $39 million.

The governor's office is preparing an amendment to the budget to cure the shortfall. The plan is reportedly to lift the sunsets on the tax hikes approved by the 26th special session of the legislature, which would generate a net revenue increase of $643 million.

But it seems like there's growing consensus that everyone will have to accept the obvious and lift the sunsets on the 2009 tax deal. And in fact, negotiations are again underway.

While Although the court’s decision applied to a relatively small sum compared to with the billions at stake in the state budget -- $62 million from the Clean Water Coalition -- the broader precedent set by the court likely prevents Gov. Brian Sandoval and lawmakers from looking to local government to solve the budget woes.

To keep his no-new-taxes pledge, Sandoval had avoided more draconian cuts by relying heavily on money from local school districts and county governments. The court decision removes that option, opening up at least a $500 million hole in the governor’s proposed budget. Loath to cut further into struggling state services and with only days left in the legislative session, Sandoval’s simplest option is to give in to Democrats’ demands to extend the temporary tax increase passed in 2009. [...]

“Now we’re back into the real world of negotiating,” state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said. “So far it has been only one side willing to negotiate. This ruling forces the other side to negotiate.”

Democratic leaders met privately with Sandoval late Thursday to work on the contours of that agreement.

Democrats have spent the past two weeks building building a budget that includes revenue from the taxes about to sunset. That will be the starting point for the negotiations.

Now, it's just a matter of what else will happen. Some Republicans will still try to demand attacks on unions, but now their hand has been significantly weakened. The teabaggers are all now weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth. And a few progressives are already starting to take advantage of the changed dynamics and demand better.

Gary Peck, executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, said “the sunsets are not enough.”

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said the sunsetting taxes were the best they could get from Republicans right now.

Peck said the Legislature should go back to its plan to raise $1.2 billion in extending the sunsets and instituting a sales tax on services and the margin tax. That tax plan won no support from Republican lawmakers, who would be necessary to pass any tax.

“It’s unfortunate that the Legislature seems unwilling and unable to stand up to governor and do what’s right,” Peck said.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said the union would still look to put a tax on the ballot if all it got were extending the existing taxes.

Maybe the spirit of Wisconsin is finally arriving here? Maybe progressives are ready to take the lead on saving the state and move forward with real reforms? Maybe we will take what's already available and run with it?

Now that Sandoval's cheap fiscal gimmickry has been exposed as just that, we need to act and we need to keep speaking the truth. Nevada is being forced to wake up, and in the coming days and weeks we need to continue this adult conversation. And even though I myself have been concerned in the not-so-distant past about taking tax reform to the ballot next year, I am now thinking it may be the only way to get around a deadlocked legislature and Governor with his head constantly stuck in the sand. Perhaps we need to let the people decide once and for all if they're satisfied with this nonstop nonsense, or if they're ready for real change.

At some point, the kabuki theater must end. As Mr. Gleaner so eloquently explained this morning, most Nevadans don't give a rat's ass if Sandoval and most legislators grab hands and sing kumbaya over a pile of horse manure. The fact of the matter is that our schools are still grossly underfunded, the rest of our public infrastructure is still woefully inadequate, and our state still needs real long-term solutions for real, sustainable success.

Hold On! We Still Have to Save Lake Tahoe!

So now, all of a sudden, we may have a workable budget deal. OK, so there's progress.

However, there's still another threat lurking. Again, Lake Tahoe is in danger. There's an intense last-minute push to pass SB 271.

[...T]he amended Senate Bill 271 calls for changes in how the agency operates, threatening withdrawal only if those changes don't happen.

The biggest change is the elimination of the super majority voting rule required for the approval of projects and the certifying of environmental impact statements. Many have complained California members use that rule to block practically every development.

In addition, anyone suing to challenge any part of the basinwide regional plan would have the burden of showing that the plan violates the compact.

[State Senator John] Lee [DINO-Corporate Fat Cats] said the plan also would be changed to require the governing board to consider economic conditions in the Tahoe Basin so that its decisions do not negatively impact the economy.

[Carson City Supervisor Shelly] Aldean said that if California and the U.S. Congress reject these and other changes to the compact in the bill, Nevada could withdraw from the bistate compact effective in 2015.

“The provision also gives the agency a mandate to make sure significant progress has been made by Oct. 1, 2013,” Aldean said. “The states have to work together harmoniously.”

So if passed, SB 271 would allow for Nevada to threaten California and the feds with withdrawal from Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), the bi-state regulatory body in charge of preserving Tahoe's natural beauty, if they don't agree to the weakening of TRPA and allowance of more real estate development. It looks like the big developers are ready to go all in to force more McMansions and big box developments on this threatened area.

The Nevada Spectator sheds more light on what SB 271 may cause to one of Nevada's last natural jewels standing.

The bill would also make it more difficult to sue polluters, and would also make the perceived economic impacts of shooting down development a primary consideration when deciding on proposed development. If these and other “reforms” are not met, Nevada will form its own regulatory body, the Nevada Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. What an environmental horror show. Las Vegas Democrat John Lee is sponsor of the bill, and I understand Mr. Lee owns a home on the lake. I wrote him to verify, but he has yet to respond, though I’ve heard from folks who attended a recent party there that he does indeed keep a place on Tahoe. I am flabbergasted he is putting this bill forward with such an obvious conflict. Am I to believe we are going to open the floodgates to Tahoe development Nevada style so Senator Lee can get his dock approved faster?

Lee complains California and TRPA are “obstructionist,” but the entire basin is already way over developed with huge casinos, ski resorts and all they entail. We do not need to loosen environmental regulation on Lake Tahoe but tighten it. This bill would do nothing but grease the skids for more crass and environmentally heedless development.

As Rochelle Nason, of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, explained to Nevada Spectator, it's not as if TRPA is blocking all development at Tahoe. In fact, they just approved another massive ski resort on Tahoe's West Shore! And they've yet to put together a comprehensive regional plan to balance the Tahoe region's economic needs with preserving the environmental wonders of the area and the integrity of the unique communities there.

So instead of ensuring that all in the community, as well as those of us in Nevada and California that enjoy visiting Tahoe and also have a stake in this, John Lee and his big developer buddies would rather pass SB 271 behind our backs and weaken the very protections Lake Tahoe urgently needs to prevent further air and water pollution. Remember that Lake Tahoe's clarity greatly depends on the health and well-being of surrounding forests, streams, meadows, and wetlands. Ironically enough, by allowing for further development into those forests as well as more commercialization of the lake, we risk losing the very quality of Tahoe that forms the beating heart of the region's economy. So in this short-sighted push to allow for more real estate development and urbanization of Lake Tahoe, we risk losing the signature natural beauty that drives tourism to the region!

So in these last few days of the 76th Session of The Nevada Legislature, we must urge legislators to stop this nonsense by saying no to SB 271. At the same time, we must also tell them and California legislators that we need to ensure TRPA does its job by strengthening the protections Tahoe needs to recover the lake's clarity and preserve the integrity of the local communities.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Game Change! Reality Check!

Gov. Brian Sandoval will include taxes set to expire next month in a revised budget he will unveil Friday, according to a source. The move, which would run counter to his pledge not to raise taxes, comes thanks to a Supreme Court ruling today that prohibits the Legislature from taking local tax dollars to fund the state.

In a statement this afternoon, Sandoval said he would present a revised spending plan on Friday that takes into account the lost funds. "The ruling raises questions about certain assumptions in the proposed executive budget," the statement said. "As governor, I am forced to deal with their ramifications and I am responding by reworking the state budget."

It looks like reality is hitting home for Brian Sandoval now that The Nevada Supreme Court ruled the 2009 Clean Water Coalition money grab unconstitutional and threw a giant legal monkey wrench into Sandoval's previously proposed gimmicks to move money from other state and local funds into the state general fund. And already, The R-J is reporting Sandoval will support extending the entire set of taxes enacted in 2009.

Bill Raggio must be smiling somewhere. For now, his legacy remains intact.

And at least for now, Nevada will get some sort of reprieve. It's funny that it took The Nevada Supreme Court ruling out the Clean Water Coalition gimmick to get us here. But hey, we're now here and at least Nevada government won't be completely dismantled... Just woefully underfunded yet again.

And that gets us back to the heart of the problem. We're not finished yet. Yes, we have this reprieve. However, progressives need to keep organizing and keep working for long-term solutions to this constant budget crisis. We can't continue to underfund our schools, our parks, our roads, and our health care indefinitely. At some point, we need a more sustainable solution... And if The Legislature can't agree on one, then maybe we the people need to solve it ourselves after all.

But in the mean time, Sandoval finally paid attention to the reality check.

Can We Be Ignored?

Can this be ignored?

Full house, overwhelming support to #SaveOurSchools #SaveNeva... on Twitpic

@ClarkCountyNev Commissioner Scow & #CSN professor prepar... on Twitpic

"There isn't biz in state that wants to pay less ta... on Twitpic

#NVLeg Assembly Ways & Means starting, @ClarkCountyNev Sh... on Twitpic

Look at all the people who flooded Grant Sawyer yesterday to plead with legislators to at least make a deal on extending the 2009 tax deal. Even with that, there must be nasty cuts to the very public infrastructure we need... But at least it won't be cut to death. But even with not much hope left (at least that politicians in Carson City will do anything close to the right thing this year) and very short notice, over 100 people showed up at Grant Sawyer in Las Vegas and ten whole sign-in sheets were filled up. And for the record, only four individuals of the ten pages were pro-Sandogibbons teabaggers.

And throughout the Assembly Ways & Means hearing on the amended AB 561 (which now just consists of extending the 2009 taxes), the testimony was mind-blowing and heart-wrenching.

Which programs will survive has been a moving target, and witnesses said they've been frustrated by the process.

"Children and families are not pawns in a game," said Jan Crandy, an advocate for autistic children and their families. "We have made them promises and taken them away."

Lifting the sunsets on the temporary taxes could help fill the gap between the governor's $6.1 billion recommended budget and the larger one Democratic lawmakers have approved. Proponents say the taxes, which include a school support tax, a modified business tax, a minerals tax and a business license fee, are already in place and have not hampered economic growth so far.

One business owner said she hadn't heard of any businesses that left the state because of those taxes and didn't see any harm in keeping the status quo.

"I'll survive," she said. "I don't know if Nevada will survive."

Several business groups, including the Nevada Mining Association and a casino association, testified that they don't want the millions in extra money they will get if the temporary taxes expire.

"It's just not necessary to give us a tax cut," said Billy Vassiliadis of the Nevada Resort Association.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has said throughout the session that he will veto any new taxes or bills extending sunsets on existing taxes; he argues the economy needs time to recover before more taxes come into play.

When even big mining and big gaming are asking to be taxed, what else can be done for gawd's sake??!!

Can this be ignored?

For far too long, we have been told to "suck it up" and "celebrate the free market". Look where that has taken us. Even though we have the cheapest state government and one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, we have the highest unemployment rate in the nation and an economy unraveling due to casinos investing more offshore and the real estate bubble bursting. The Nevada "success story" of the past has been found to be just a mirage, an illusion, a trick.

Can we be ignored?

We know what we need to fix our economy and put our state back on track. While Sandogibbons continues to dream of making it big time, many Nevadans' dreams of making it to the next day fade away. There were so many people in Grant Sawyer yesterday testifying of how they're trying to do the right thing by staying in school, working on college degrees, and aspiring for real, stable jobs. But as Sandogibbons and his merry band of cannibalistic teabaggers continue to pull the rug out from under them (by way of forcing class eliminations, school closures, further health care rationing, etc.), they don't know if they can survive here.

Yes, it's really come down to that. Can we be ignored any longer? Or will we be forced to leave? Could that be why big bid'ness is swooping in at the last minute?

Many of Nevada's largest taxpayers lined up on Wednesday in support of extending business taxes approved during the 2009 Legislature.

"We did not anticipate a rollback in the tax rates, and we support the temporary taxes going on into the future," Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley told members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, who heard nearly four hours of testimony on AB561.

Crowley was joined by representatives of gaming industry and business industries, along with numerous advocates for education, health care and public safety, asking that $712 million in taxes that were put in place in 2009 be extended through the next biennium to help the state avoid large cuts proposed in Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget.

"As we look at what the impacts of this economy is doing to our public education system, our higher education system, health care, senior citizen support, in good conscience, we would just as soon not get a tax cut," said Billy Vassiliadis, representing the Nevada Resort Association, which includes most of the state's gaming properties.

"There isn't a business in this state, that cares about this state, that wants to see its taxes reduced while we are laying off teachers, reducing their salaries, furloughing state employees, reducing nursing home support, reducing public safety, potentially closing community colleges, increasing tuition, eliminating professors, eliminating degrees from universities, etc., etc., etc., he said. "It's just not necessary to give us a tax cut."

Can we be ignored? Or is Nevada about to get a brutal wake-up call?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shocker in New York... Upset in Nevada?

Last night, DC pundits were shocked by what they thought was impossible.

Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in New York’s special election to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY). Despite the $2.36 million spent by groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to keep the district red and the $60 per vote Corwin spent herself, Hochul secured a clear victory in a traditionally Republican district [...]

Viewed as a referendum on House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare, Hochul’s victory exemplifies the American public’s overwhelming disgust with the GOP push to force seniors to bear the burden of increasing health costs. Expecting a loss, several Republicans — including Corwin herself — tried to assert the election had nothing to do with Ryan’s Medicare plan. But DCCC chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) outlined the three reasons that Corwin lost the election: “[I]n alphabetical order, Medicare, Medicare and Medicare.”

Apparently, Paul Ryan's disgusting "roadmap" to destroy the American middle class proved to be quite the political stink bomb. Even Republicans admitted early on that this special election would be a referendum on their plan to unravel the American social safety net, which starts by ending Medicare. And now, Democrats are poised to use this NY-26 election as a launch pad to retake Congress.

"We can ensure we do not decimate Medicare," Hochul said. "We will keep the promises made to our seniors who have spent their lives paying into Medicare, so they can count on health care when they need it most."

If Democrats have their way, there will be a lot more speeches along those lines come November 2012. The chairs of both legislative election committees made clear on Tuesday that they believe they have found a winning formula they intend to use elsewhere.

"The election last night showed that Democrats have the keys to drive the budget debate and play offense in 2012," Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement. "The implications of this election extend to Senate races in battleground states and red states across the country. The results provide clear evidence that Democratic senators and senate candidates will be able to play offense across the country by remaining focused on the Republican effort to end Medicare and force seniors to pay thousands more for health care costs."

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that the party had "served notice to the Republicans" that the Medicare issue could hurt them.

"Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare," he said. "The American people will continue to hold House Republicans accountable for their plan to end Medicare from now until election day 2012."

For Rob Zerban, a Democrat running against GOP budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) in 2012, the Hochul race was an instructive boost to his campaign hopes.

"I just am overwhelmed at the results from this election. It's a harbinger of things to come," he told TPM over the phone on Tuesday night. "I'm certainly going to make this a key issue in the 1st Congressional District in Wisconsin. ... Democrats are going to focus on how we can actualy shore up, strengthen, and keep Medicare solvent, and this will be a clear distinction in the 2012 cycle."

So can this be another factor that shakes up the already zany special election in Nevada's own 2nd Congressional District? The legal drama over how the election itself will be conducted ("Ballot Royale?" Or behind closed doors?) is proving to be a giant hot mess with none other than Dean Heller at the center of it. For quite some time, the focal point of the NV-02 special has been the (at times hilarious) cast of characters running. But now, is there a chance this will change and... GASP! ... the election may actually be decided on policy?

Don't laugh just yet. Notice these numbers (via DB).

Republicans falsely claim Nevada seniors will not be impacted by the GOP’s plan, but starting next year, more than 26,700 Nevada seniors will be forced to pay $15 million more in prescription drug costs [if the Ryan Budget is passed]. The Republican budget also slashes billions in health care through Medicaid, putting seniors at risk.


The Republican plan to end Medicare will increase out-of-pocket health care costs for a typical 65 year-old Nevada senior by $5,862 in 2022 – more than double the cost under current law.

The Republican plan could force at least 7,800 Nevada seniors to pay over $828,000 more for annual wellness visits in 2012.

In Nevada, more than 26,700 seniors would pay $15 million more for prescription drugs in 2012 alone under the Republican plan.

By turning Medicaid into a block grant program, the Republican plan could cost Nevada at least 9,600 private-sector jobs over the next five years.

In Nevada, the Republican plan could cut $1.7 billion in federal health care funding for seniors and the disabled through Medicaid, including life-saving nursing home care.”

I guess that's why Mark Amodei is already running scared and refusing to specifically endorse the Ryan Plan. However, Kirk Lippold has enthusiastically endorsed Ryan's plan. And in the not-all-that-distant past, all three Republican men have embraced it.

Amodei says he likes the "honesty" of the deep spending cuts found in the 2012 budget proposal from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and House Budget Committee chairman, whose plan clashes with President Barack Obama's competing proposal. Brower likes the Ryan proposal, too, and says its plan to reduce corporate taxes while keeping President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich "could spur the economic activity we so desperately need." Lippold, a retired Navy commander, says Ryan's plan is a good blueprint that "sets forth some aggressive goals."

Meanwhile, I think we already know what Sharron Angle thinks about the Ryan Plan...

I think we know what's next. But funny enough, it's not just the usual Sharrontology. In fact, all the above mentioned Republicans have in some way endorsed Ryan's plan to destroy Medicare and undermine the middle class. Even if they try to run away and distance themselves from this, they will just look as silly as Jane Corwin did in New York's 26th Congressional District.

So maybe Mr. Gleaner will get his wish come true after all? Maybe the special election in Nevada's 2nd will be decided on the issues (not just the personalities) after all?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lake Tahoe on the Bargaining Table... Or the Chopping Block?

Apparently, yet another victim has been taken hostage by craven "conservatives" in The Legislature...


Yes, believe it or not, this is what's happening behind closed doors in Carson City.

A Nevada Senate committee tempered anger toward California and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Monday, seeking changes to a two-state compact instead of immediate withdrawal from the agency that oversees development and environmental protections in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee amended and approved SB271. Among other things, the bill calls for an end to a supermajority of the voting, 14-member TRPA governing board needed to approve projects and regional plans. Any projects currently permitted would be grandfathered.

Nevada and California each have seven members on the board. There is also one non-voting member appointed by the president.

Other provisions require that any regional plan, which hasn't been updated since the mid-1980s, consider the Lake Tahoe Basin's changing economic conditions, and that anyone challenging a plan has the burden to show how it violates the compact.

During an earlier committee hearing, critics of the TRPA called the agency a “bloated bureaucracy” and an “obstructionist organization” that takes years to decide if a homeowner can cut up a dead tree or pave a driveway.

Nevada lawmakers lobbed anger at environmentalists and California, saying the liberal leanings of Nevada's western neighbor infringe on the property rights of residents on the eastern shore of the Sierra jewel.

So what exactly are we talking about?

Here's the deal. Lake Tahoe is an amazing jewel of The West... But over the years, there's been a massive struggle to stop this gem from losing any more of its luster. Because of development gone amok, the lake was losing its famed clarity and dazzling blue tint, and pollution was becoming a more serious problem. And as climate change has worsened, so too have the environmental dilemmas at Lake Tahoe. But thanks to efforts to curb the pollution and better regulate real estate development, Lake Tahoe has actually been improving. And by expanding on these efforts, it may even be possible to restore a full 100 feet of visibility in the lake in the future. There was even hope last month to turn these hopeful words into action.

A plan to return Lake Tahoe to its historic levels of clarity has moved one step closer to reality — but not before prompting questions about its costs and timing.

The California State Water Resources Control Board approved a plan earlier this month to return the lake to 100 feet of clarity within 65 years by limiting pollutants. The plan, developed by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, was forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

The initial step will require Lake Tahoe Basin counties, road departments and the city of South Lake Tahoe to reduce the amount of fine sediment entering the lake by 32 percent during the next 15 years.

By making the reductions, the lake should reach 78 feet of clarity, about eight feet more than exists today, officials say.

"Our goal is to give future generations the opportunity to see for themselves what Mark Twain saw when he said, upon visiting Lake Tahoe for the first time, `I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole world affords,'" Harold Singer, the Lahontan water board's executive officer, said in a statement.

But apparently, a few legislators in Carson City want none of this. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is in charge of regulating development in and around Lake Tahoe. But if passed, SB 271 would put Nevada on record opposing this and calling for its weakening and/or dismantling. After all, who needs a silly blue lake when ski resorts can be expanded and legislators' vacation homes can get new docks?

Here's the problem with this flawed thinking. It's incredibly shortsighted, and it ultimately hurts the economic well-being of the Tahoe region. After all, Tahoe is a major tourist destination welcoming over 3 million visitors annually. And what do people go for? One cookie-cutter ski resort? One shopping mall? A few boat slips? No, they go for the beauty of the lake! By allowing Tahoe's water quality to worsen and overall pollution problems to worsen just for the sake of letting a privileged few make a few extra million bucks, legislators would be lessening the appeal to visit Tahoe and jeopardizing the economic health of the greater community.

Go ahead and take a closer look at SB 271, then do something about it. We simply can't afford to forever lose an amazing gem like Lake Tahoe.

What? This Isn't Enough?

So now we see more contours of a possible budget compromise...

• A 2.5 percent pay cut in salaries for all school employees, including teachers and administrators, saving the state $117.5 million over two years.

• Reduce basic per-pupil school support by $100 in each year, saving the state $85 million.

• Reduce higher education funding by $20 million over two years, putting the cut from 13.54 percent to 15.34 percent.

• Eliminate a senior citizens property tax assistance program with 16,609 participants who, on average, get a refund of $267 a year. It would save $1.2 million over two years.

• Not fund a portion of the self-directed autism program, saving $2.8 million.

• Reduce Medicaid and Nevada Check-Up funding by $19.3 million for the biennium. That includes a $5 per bed-day reduction for nursing homes, a 0.7 percent rate reduction for dental services, a 15 percent rate reduction for surgical centers and ambulance services, and increased costs to counties.

• Not funding subsidized child care for 295 children of people on welfare, saving $2 million.

• Reduce mental health services by $2.3 million.

• Reduce supported living arrangements for mental health services.

• Eliminate a high-intensity team to deal with those with mental health needs, saving $1 million.

• Eliminate supported living arrangements for 54 positions, saving $3 million.

• Shift costs of youth parole services to the county for about $5.5 million.

• Reduce room and board funding for youth with mental health programs, saving $1.4 million.

Amazingly enough (or not), it's still not enough for Sandogibbons and his merry band of Senate "Rethuglican'ts". So where do we go from here? It's still up in the air, but I'm getting a better sense that it will be a hard and painful landing regardless of who claims "victory". And regardless of what anyone else says, keep bugging those legislators and let them know what you think of this nonsense.

Not All News from Carson Is Bad...

Amidst all the angst over the seemingly never ending budget brawl, there is some good news today.

Despite opposition from Republican legislators, Gov. Brian Sandoval will sign a bill today prohibiting discrimination against transgender workers.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to the governor, said Sandoval will also sign two other bills approved by the Legislature to ban gender discrimination.

Assembly Bill 211, to be signed today, passed the Assembly 29-13 and the Senate 11-10, with all of the [Assembly] opposition coming from GOP lawmakers.

The bill prohibits discrimination in employment based on gender identity or expression. Gender identity or expression, according to the bill, means gender-related identity appearance, expression or behavior of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned gender at birth.

The Assembly on Monday approved the two other anti-discrimination bills on transsexuals in public accommodations and housing. The vote was 29-13 and the bills are on their way to the governor. All 13 "no" votes were cast by Republicans.

This really goes a great distance to finally address and correct the huge inequity in Nevada's workplace. Enough families are already suffering because of the recession. We don't need any more people fired just because of who they are. That's just plain wrong, and it's long past time for Nevada to say enough is enough to unfair workplace discrimination.

So AB 211 is finally becoming law. Occasionally, The Legislature may actually still be useful. (More on that soon...)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Good News/Bad News: Budget Deal Near?

So let the (uglier) cutting begin...

Although negotiations are still ongoing, two Democratic leaders confirmed they have all but given up on convincing Republicans to back either a services or margin tax. The most they now hope to get from Republicans are enough votes to extend the 2009 tax increase in exchange for reforms to collective bargaining, employee benefits and construction defects.

Both sides said the negotiations on that point are going well—at least on the Assembly side. [...]

According to the contours of an emerging agreement, Democrats would be forced to cut their add backs by at least $250 million. That process will begin tomorrow.

The bad news: There will be brutal cuts... Cuts that will hamper our economic recovery and beat down many Nevada families who have already been kicked down by the recession.

The good news: At least the cuts won't be as brutal as what Sandogibbons wanted.


This really is one terrible situation. Even The RGJ acknowledges this.

For many, the impacts are immediate and obvious. There will be padlocks on the historic Nevada State Prison, for instance. Paychecks of state employees will be smaller.

The impact of others will take longer to become manifest -- until a taxpayer interacts with state government, for instance, and finds the office closed for furloughs or learns a program has been discontinued.

And then there will be cuts whose effects are less obvious but have are long-lasting and difficult to undo, even when the Nevada economy rebounds. [...]

[N]o one should be under the illusion that the cuts proposed in the state budget won't have consequences. Some, in fact, will have lasting consequences that will leave the state much worse off, and every Nevadan should understand that.

With the hobbling of our important higher educational institutions, it's becoming more difficult for Nevada to appeal to researchers, for federal funding, and to companies looking for an educated workforce. With the crippling of our health care system, it's becoming more difficult for Nevada to show seniors they want to retire here. And with the decay of the rest of our public infrastructure, people must wonder why anyone wants to live here.

So honestly, I don't know what to really think about this. Sure, it could have been worse... And frankly, it still may be if Sandoval tries to force a Senate stalemate. Still, it just feels like we're once again kicking the can down the road and hoping it won't be flying right into the face (yet again).

(By the way, if you want to help someone continuing the good fight regardless of Carson City political calculations, Progress Now really needs your help!)

On the First Day of Early Voting...

You've been following along with me as Henderson's remaining city council race has turned ugly. However, those mailers aren't the whole story of what's happening here. In fact, here's a glimpse of what happened on Saturday.

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Sam Bateman was walking again. This time, the crew hit Old Henderson... And found some very interesting results.

I only found one house going for "the other guy". On the other hand, one person already voted for Sam by mail and three were planning to vote early that weekend! I even spoke to someone familiar with "the other guy", and he was quite eager... To vote for Sam Bateman.

As I said Friday, I think the "State of Nevada" segment really illuminated the differences of the Ward 4 candidates and the seriousness of the choice we have to make. And to my delight, it was looking like the people I spoke to in Old Henderson on Saturday had been doing their own homework and reaching the same conclusion.

When everyone headed back to the Vons parking lot, the other walkers were sharing similar stories. It was quite fascinating to hear others who got similar results. Perhaps I should have been surprised that voters in the part of town likely most familiar with "the other guy" are voting for Sam... Except that I already started to see this coming.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Final Thoughts Before Early Voting

So early voting begins tomorrow in the final round Clark County municipal elections. As I said earlier this week, it's extremely important for us to participate, as local government is the government that most affects our daily lives. So now, on the eve of early voting, I'd like to make some final comments... And personal endorsements.

Henderson Ward 4 is definitely getting rough & tumble in the home stretch.

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We've been seeing the accusations, the lies, the twists & turns, and so much more. I know it's easy to just dismiss it all and succumb to apathy. However, here's why we shouldn't.

Henderson faces difficult budget decisions. We need to think of new ways to bring jobs and businesses to town. We have older neighborhoods that need more TLC, as well as newer areas that can't be forgotten.

Henderson has plenty of challenges, and I think what was said on KNPR's "State of Nevada" yesterday really boils it down well for us. Go ahead and listen to that segment, then tell me which of the candidates actually has good ideas for Henderson, and wants to put some real thought into the work going forward on city council. This is why I will be voting (again) for Sam Bateman in Ward 4. He really seems to get it.

And what I've said about Las Vegas before also continues to stand.

Where does Carolyn Goodman stand on... Well, on ANY issues?! Ralston seemed to be back in touch with his cynical side in suggesting she "knows little, except how to win", but I'm hoping the people of Las Vegas expect more and better out of their mayor.

Now contrast that with this...

And with this segment on KNPR's "State of Nevada" this morning! Again, you tell me who has the ability to turn Las Vegas around and make the city work again. Whether or not you're good at pronouncing her last name, Chris Giunchigliani is very much someone who's interested in actually working for all the people of Las Vegas.

I'll have a couple more endorsements and suggestions up tomorrow morning. And whether or not you agree with my personal endorsements, I hope you vote in this election and make your own voice heard.

Majority for Marriage (Equality)? Gallup Says Yes!

Now isn't this a pleasant surprise to wake up to!

For the first time in Gallup's tracking of the issue, a majority of Americans (53%) believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages. The increase since last year came exclusively among political independents and Democrats. Republicans' views did not change.

These results are based on Gallup's May 5-8 Values and Beliefs poll, which has tracked attitudes toward legalizing same-sex marriage each year since 2004, adding to Gallup's initial polling on the topic in 1996 and 1999.

This year's nine-point increase in support for same-sex marriage is the largest year-to-year shift yet measured over this time period. Two-thirds of Americans were opposed to legalized same-sex marriage in 1996, with 27% in favor. By 2004, support had risen to 42% and, despite some fluctuations from year to year, stayed at roughly that level through last year.

It's interesting to look at the crosstabs here to see how attitudes are changing. It's really looking like young voters are shifting the dynamics, and that "the gender gap" is narrowing as men's support for marriage equality is catching up to women's.

But at the same time, the partisan divide looks greater than ever. Even though there were gains for equality across the ideological spectrum, Republican support for marriage equality remained frozen (at 28%) as Democratic support rose 13% (from 56% to 69%) and nonpartisan support rose 10% (from 49% to 59%). Frankly, it's saddening to see that hatred and bigotry are still being used successfully as "culture war" "wedge issues" in the GOP.

But overall, this goes to show that much progress is being made in the beautiful struggle for LGBTQ civil rights, and that our elected representatives can't ignore what's becoming the will of the people for too much longer.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Who Does Nevada Value?

This is a question we all need to think about. Does Nevada value its people?

“We feel that Nevada just doesn't care about us,” said Nathaniel Phillips. “We feel you're putting your party before the people. We are the people you represent.”

Kyle George of Las Vegas said he has made the trip from Las Vegas to Carson City so many times, “I'm tired of talking about this.”

“Please set aside political ideology,” he said. “Meet us half way in the middle.”

LeLiana Deleon, a biology major in Southern Nevada, pointed out that, without education, lawmakers on the committee wouldn't be where they are now.

“The future of Nevada is with the kids,” she said. “Do not let the future crumble.”

J.T. Creedon who attends the College of Southern Nevada said the governor told students he wouldn't lift the sunsets on tax increases approved two years ago because promises were made those taxes would go away.

“The Board of Regents and system promised us these (tuition and fee) increases would be lifted as well,” he said. “Those sunsets were lifted. I don't understand why promises can be broken to students but not to anybody else.”

We'll find more clues this week as the (initial) higher education budget moves through The Legislature. It includes a 13% tuition hike, but Brian Sandoval is already threatening to veto it because it doesn't cut college funding and raise student tuition enough for him.

Once again, Desert Beacon explains beautifully why Sandoval is dead wrong on undervaluing higher education.

First, there is a connection between the quality of the higher education services available and economic activity. One of the prime reasons enterprises locate to a given area is the availability of research and business support provided by institutions of higher education. It’s no big secret why new computer science companies are locating in and around Salt Lake City, UT. Nor has it ever been a secret why Silicon Valley grew up in the shadows of Cal-Berkley, Stanford, et. al. Or, why high tech companies have gravitated to the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Any wonder why UCLA has a world renown school of theater, film, and television, and USC includes an equally well known school of cinematic arts? If Nevada doesn’t support its institutions of higher education why would we expect anyone else to get excited about the prospects of using their services to augment the success of their business enterprises?

Secondly, the user-fee theory of public taxation assumes that only those directly involved in higher education are the recipients of any economic benefit. Wrong again. In addition to the commercial applications of university research mentioned above, colleges and universities generate economic activity in the community. Professors and students add their consumer spending to the local mix. The entire spectrum of local business is improved by the addition of a college or university. Teachers, staff, and students spend money — on housing, groceries, vehicles, utilities, restaurant meals, clothing, and so on. To say that we can raise taxes on the consumers, but not on the businesses they support is to look very narrowly at only one side of the economic equation.

Third, we can extend the economic benefit by thinking of higher education from the perspective that the institutions provide pre-service training for the local work-force. What’s more convenient for a company — having to conduct a nationwide search for an accountant? Or, having a School of Business Administration at hand? Need to hire a graphic designer for an entry level position? The personnel department would be pleased to find someone from a local School of Fine Arts, which would be far less expensive than looking elsewhere and everywhere.

Coming from California, I can most definitely back up DB. Silicon Valley is the epicenter of hi-tech and e-commerce because of the presence of Stanford and UC Berkeley. San Diego has become the epicenter of biotech and medical research because of the presence of UCSD. And similar stories can be told in other western locales, such as Salt Lake City, Denver, and Tucson, where the strong presence of strong universities has led to stronger economies with more stable job markets.

But because Nevada hasn't invested as much in higher education, we in turn have lagged behind. We mistakenly thought we could "grow our way" out of this problem by the way of artificially inflated real estate development fueled by personal debt. Now we are paying the consequences of that huge mistake. Simply put, we can't expect another "bubble" of "irrational exuberance" to "grow" us out of this crisis. The only realistic long-term solution to Nevada's economic problems involve developing the higher educational opportunities we desperately need to grow the workforce new industries will want, leading to a more stable and diversified economy.

So where do we go from here? Well, it's complicated. As I've been saying this week, certain "bid'ness" lobbyists are holding a budget and revenue deal hostage over public servant rights and benefits. And right now, Republican legislators are hiding behind this as they say they "support Sandoval", but then propose some sort of deal. There seems to be a good chance of getting a deal on extending the 2009 tax deal, and a deal on any new revenue proposals may still be very up in the air.

So in the coming weeks, we will know what and who Nevada really values. Do we value our people enough to pursue long-term economic opportunities? Or will we continue to make even more shortsighted mistakes? Those legislators really need to hear from us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Gloves Come Off...

The municipal campaigns are reaching home stretch, and the gloves are now coming off!

Well, what can I say? It may be "negative", but there is definitely truth to this. Come on... Try to make sense of this!

Why is Carolyn Goodman running? Seriously. I gave her a chance and waited to see what she would offer policy wise. So far, she just seems to be throwing out a whole lot of confusing hot air. I guess this is why she's been avoiding debates with Chris G.

In the mean time here in Henderson, this is getting more attention.

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Yep, I finally received it in the mail. And while Mike Mayberry may be throwing a hissy fit over it, he still refuses to talk about whether or not he actually needs $40,000 per year in disability benefits... Or for that matter, whether his "fiscal conservative" platform actually means anything.

(And by the way, I still haven't heard any response from Mayberry's campaign on his explicit endorsement of homophobic and transphobic legislative bigotry.)

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Look, I'm usually not one to enjoy negative campaign ads. They can be grating, annoying, and downright demeaning to the ("small d") democratic process. But when candidates refuse to meet with local voters and debate actual issues of substance, this is what ends up happening. Seriously, Carolyn Goodman and Mike Mayberry only have themselves to blame for not offering anything to allow for serious discussion of local policy.

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.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Sandoville" Isn't a Game. It's Real Life.

Have you heard of "Farmville"? If not, then you're very fortunate. It's this bizarre social networking/virtual reality game that can get very out of hand very fast. I try to avoid it whenever I'm on Facebook.

And I guess Brian Sandoval is trying to avoid actual reality. But unlike Farmville, Sandoville isn't a fictional game. It involves real people.

College students and progressive activists dubbed their tent city outside the Nevada Legislature building “Sandoville” on Monday as they prepared for a three-day campout in protest of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts.

About 40 tents were set up in the grass north of the Legislative building by early afternoon on Monday by a bus load of students from the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas and Nevada State College in Henderson. Students from the University of Nevada, Reno later joined them for what was forecast to be a chilly and potentially rainy night. [...]

“We’re trying to send a message that we are already sacrificing and we want them to include revenue as part of the solution,” Neff said. “We have no problem with the fact that you have to have some cuts. We get it the problem is too monstrous to solve without cuts. But all cuts makes no sense to us.”

Several legislators including Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno; Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, Assemblyman Richard Carillo, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, also participated in the event.

“I’m very grateful these students took the time to come up here,” Kihuen said. “I think it shows how dedicated they are in trying to impact the system. I think it sends a strong message to the entire state that the students are paying attention, that average Nevadans are paying attention.”

Progress Now has even more videos, photos, and updates on Sandoville here.

If Brian Sandoval and certain recalcitrant Republican legislators "keep up the good work", Nevada will cease to exist! We need to wake up and smell reality. Nevada can not survive on gambling alone. We need new businesses here, but they will never come if Nevada can't provide the good education necessary for the kind of well educated workforce that these companies are looking for. We need to wake up, rethink our priorities, and raise the revenue needed to fully fund public education.

Keep writing those legislators until they finally "get it" and do the right thing!