Legislature 2009 Winners and Losers
Thank God it’s over—who got their way, and who got screwed?
Thu, Jun 4, 2009 (midnight)
THE GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY
Go Sen. David Parks (D-Vegas) & Co. The mild-mannered civil-rights activist, with great support from The Center and a generally more politically active gay community, pushed through the most meaningful measure for Nevada’s gay residents in forever: a domestic-partnership law. Nevada? The 17th state to enact such a measure? A true triumph. Add to that the passage of Senate Bill 207, which makes it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in public places like hotels, and you have a banner year for civil rights.
In February we had them square in our sights: big, fat, juicy miners. “Did you know that Nevada exports more gold than God?” we said. In 2007 the state set a record with $5.4 billion in commodities extracted, according to the state Minerals Division. With the tax rate on mining capped at 5 percent, the state got $38 million, and counties $37 million. They’re gutting the land, taking precious metals and leaving not much for the state budget in return. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada went after them, and we dreamily envisioned what kind of state we’d have if we tapped our own natural wealth a smidge more. But at the session’s end, we’re still a tax haven for miners, gold is still above $900 an ounce, and this is still a poor state.
It’s really not about who can make the most noise before or during the session; it’s about who controls the last few days. Senate Minority Leader Raggio (R-Reno) got time limits on tax increases, showed freshman Steve Horsford a thing or two about brinkmanship and walked out still King.
Two bills passed making it illegal to a) leave an animal on a leash outside for more than 12 hours; and b) set up dog fights or raise dogs for the purposes of fighting.
It was a big year for this often-underused executive-branch power—Gov. Jim Gibbons issued a record 41 vetoes, including the tax package.
THE VETO OVERRIDE
As of Monday, the Legislature had used it 25 times.
You can now smoke at certain private conventions. Okay, so smokers didn’t win everything that would’ve poked holes in the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, but the LVCVA did get this measure to let conventioneers smoke, after they’d lost some convention business over it.
LAWMAKERS WHO ARE PREVENTED FROM COMING BACK TO CARSON CITY BECAUSE OF TERM LIMITS
They may have fought for more life, but they’ll be glad not to be there in ’11, when it gets ugly again: Senators Maurice Washington, Terry Care, Maggie Carlton, Bob Coffin, Mark Amodei, Bernice Mathews and Randolph Townsend; Assembly members Barbara Buckley, Bernie Anderson, Morse Arberry, Jerry Claborn, Ellen Koivisto, Mark Manendo, Kathy McClain, Harry Mortensen, John Carpenter and Sheila Leslie.
THE B WORD
Billion. Lawmakers shied away from a billion-dollar tax increase, capping it at $781 million for a $3 billion hole. Tax increases pan out like this: the business-license fee goes from $100 annually to $200. Vehicle registration costs will decrease at a slower rate year over year. The statewide sales tax goes up 0.35 percent. Business payroll taxes will be increased on amounts over $250,000 annually.
The cement is not all dry. Locals’ battle to reopen it is still alive, after last-minute passage of a measure to reopen the street to Downtown, pending acquisition of a ton of cash from someone other than the state.
FUTURE MEDICAL PATIENTS
Hospitals will need to ensure adequate nurse-to-patient ratios and safety of patients. And five bills passed as a result of the hep-C scare, measures that will help ensure safe procedures and ease of whistle-blowing.
HOMEOWNERS FACING FORECLOSURE
Barbara Buckley’s Assembly Bill 149 gave an option to homeowners facing foreclosure: They’ll be able to request mediation with the lenders to modify their loans.
GOV. JIM GIBBONS
Self-explanatory. The most overridden governor in a single session. Irrelevant? A fly in the ointment.
PIMPS AND JOHNS
A measure passed to allow law enforcement to take pimps’ assets and fine them up to $500,000 for prostituting teenagers. Even better, it’ll now be a felony to solicit teens for prostitution. Hard to believe it wasn’t already.
THE 2011 LEGISLATURE
Why do today what you can put off till next session? The holdover fixes enacted this session will not hold out long. With sunsets on the budget bills, everything will need to be revisited in 2011. No long-term solutions were agreed upon, so that sets up the 2011ers for a hot mess.
It’s not that the donkeys lost everything; it’s that after the November election in which Dems seemed to smush Republicans into the corner, this was a moment to shine. Yet not much shining was done. They didn’t offer their own fresh tax package, but refuted the governor’s, and there was no fundamental revision of the tax structure, even though it was the largest tax increase in state history. There was no broad-based business tax. There was no reform of mining taxes. No additional gaming tax. No corporate profits tax. No gross receipts tax. A lot of things look kinda the same as they always have.
The K-12 budget was cut 12.5 percent. Even though Assembly Bill 563 appropriated some $2.79 billion to the budgets that fund K-12 during the next biennium, in the middle of cutting the guts out of many other programs, that means funding goes backward by more than two years; that is, it’ll be at a level less than it was in 2007. And that was when we ranked 49th out of the 50 states in per-pupil funding. Kudos to Buckley for trying to revive the vetoed measure that would create a rainy day fund for K-12, but it didn’t pass.
And we refuse to see the fact that higher ed didn’t get Gibbons’ 36-percent funding cut as a win.
How is it that a sitting Clark County commissioner makes the losers list? By taking a well-paid part-time job ($60,000 for 20 hours a week) in the green industry, a job created by a bill pushed by Majority Leader Steven Horsford, giving at least the aroma of political favors. Cornered by the bad press, Weekly resigned the position. Back to Manpower he goes!
Weekly wasn’t the only county loser, though. The state will steal from the counties to help itself. The state will slurp up some county property-tax revenue, as if the counties didn’t have enough problems.
There was a tour! Before the session, the leading pick for Democratic Session Hero and future governor went on the Barbara Buckley Listening Tour, in which she schmoozed confidently with the unwashed masses and alluded to a new Nevada. We believed. And then, the Assembly Speaker got down to work. But the heroism was buried in a horrid economy and a 30-percent budget shortfall. And here we are.
Increase of about a buck a day in taxes.
They got collective-bargaining rights, which is a win. But pretty much all state departments got a budget cut. And those hired after January 1, 2010, must work longer before retiring and becoming eligible for health benefits.