If government overreaches, it's our job to point it out

In light of events of this past week, let us contemplate the roles of two entities -- government and the press.

On Wednesday, the Review-Journal's capital bureau chief, Ed Vogel, reported on a preliminary report from a blue-ribbon panel appointed and funded -- $250,000 worth of taxpayer funds -- by the state Legislature for the apparent purpose of coming up with ways to improve the "quality of life" of Nevadans. The 20-member group is saddled with the unwieldy title of Nevada Vision Stakeholders Group.

The Review-Journal editorialized Thursday on that report, calling it "as disconnected an assemblage of progressive platitudes as we've seen in years."

The report calls for sweeping involvement in the lives of Nevadans at practically every level, all funded by more and higher taxes.

The press performed its role -- shouting "wolf" when there really is a wolf -- but a twig of government sought to exceed its role, which ought to be, under the precepts of our Founders, a distinctly and severely limited one.

Thomas Jefferson spelled this out in his first inaugural address. After enumerating the blessings bestowed upon this nation by providence, he said, "(W)ith all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens -- a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."

Interestingly, the vision group report opens by remarking on how the people of Nevada are blessed with "a magnificent natural landscape and inviting, compassionate communities," but quickly descends into bemoaning about how "many of the wants and needs of Nevadans were not being met," even during the boom years when taxes were pouring in faster than governments could spend them.

Despite the admonition of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote, "In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns," these stakeholders proceed to ferret out a role for government in getting us to smoke less, eat less and exercise more.

Odd, it never says anything about gambling less.

The report also calls for putting our children into state-subsidized schools by the age of 3, hiring bilingual teachers, investing in university research, increasing food stamp program participation to 90 percent, investing in information technology, building high-speed rail lines to Reno and Southern California, getting commuters out of their cars, reducing crime, expanding community-based youth, substance abuse, mental health, life skills and other preventative measures, developing geothermal and solar power generation, cutting water use, achieving industrial diversity, etc., etc., et-whatever-progressive-panacea-cetera.

The Nevada Constitution merely says, "All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people."

Depends on your definition of benefit.

It also says, "No income tax shall be levied upon the wages or personal income of natural persons."

By a vote of the citizens, the state Constitution now demands a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature in order to pass any bill that "creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form, including but not limited to taxes, fees, assessments and rates, or changes in the computation bases for taxes, fees, assessments and rates."

But that's no hurdle for the visioning folk. It's report declares, "Nevada's needs are dire enough that all potential reforms, including difficult-to-enact changes to the constitution, should be on the table for discussion." (Nowhere in the report could I find a single suggestion for abating, reducing or even slowing the growth rate of spending on anything.)

Jefferson not only defined the role of government, but in a letter to George Washington in 1792, while secretary of state, he advisedly defined the role of the press:

"No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will. If virtuous, it need not fear the fair operation of attack and defence. Nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth whether in religion, law or politics. I think it as honorable to the government neither to know nor notice its sycophants or censors, as it would be undignified and criminal to pamper the former and persecute the latter."

The stakeholders appear to favor pampering the recipients of public treasure, and I suspect some would like to persecute this branch of a penurious press.

Thomas Mitchell is the editor of the Review-Journal and writes on the role of the press and access to public information. He may contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com. Read his blog at lvrj.com/blogs/mitchell.