If you think the oddest thing that happened during the first week of the Legislature involved Assemblyman Steven Brooks, you missed the real drama.
That came during an Assembly Taxation Committee hearing Thursday, during which an obviously angry Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, repeatedly interrupted testimony offered by a delegation from North Las Vegas to essentially accuse the mayor of that city of lying.
Mayor Shari Buck was in the capital to offer an amendment to a bill Kirkpatrick has been patiently fashioning during the two years the Legislature has been out of session. It would revise the Byzantine formula for calculating the consolidated tax, or “C-tax.” Buck said her city has been receiving too little per capita. She wanted a change that would allow North Las Vegas to get an additional $25.8 million per year.
But Kirkpatrick interrupted to say she wasn’t going to lie to the residents of her city.
“This formula was never based on population,” Kirkpatrick said. “I have freakin’ said that for two years.”
It’s a safe bet “freakin’ ” was not her original nor preferred word choice.
Kirkpatrick’s anger isn’t just a matter of a political disagreement between a local government leader and a state lawmaker. Those tensions are as old as Nevada itself, and continue because the state Legislature insists on giving up as little power as possible to the locals.
Instead, Kirkpatrick is angry because she’s worked for months to forge a compromise that would treat all local governments better, a compromise North Las Vegas is threatening. And that doesn’t sit well with the speaker.
It’s understandable that North Las Vegas — so strapped for money it was forced to close its jail — would want extra cash. It’s less clear whether it’s a good idea to give it to them. This is the city that built a pricey water treatment plant and then got into a lawsuit with Clark County over where it could discharge its treated water. The construction of a new City Hall was undeterred by the recession, although it probably should have been. Labor disputes led the city to claim extraordinary powers, but only after stretching state law like saltwater taffy. And the city’s most recent election wasn’t exactly a model of American democracy.
Against that backdrop, annoying the speaker should probably not surprise anyone. Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, tweeted that city officials shouldn’t ask Kirkpatrick for as much as bus fare. In truth, city officials should probably not turn their backs when Kirkpatrick is in the room.
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So this is what $550 million buys?
That’s what I thought this week as I drove between Reno and Carson City on the new Interstate 580, so fresh it still had that new-freeway smell.
The previous route — a windy road that passed homes and businesses, with a strict 50 mph speed limit — finally gave way to the new, 8½-mile, six-lane, 65 mph freeway. It’s the most expensive road project in Nevada history, by the way.
That’s in part thanks to an architecturally tricky Galena bridge, which looked a bit scary when under construction and viewed from below, but is indistinguishable from any other freeway when you’re actually driving on it.
The new road is convenient — drivers no longer have to exit the freeway to get between Reno and Carson City — and the commute is shorter by six minutes. It’s probably safer, too. The old route was dotted with hand-lettered signs urging drivers to slow down, and the occasional cross to mark an occasion when speed killed.
The downside: Most of the traffic-vexed residents of Southern Nevada will never have the chance to enjoy the drive. All things considered, I’d probably rather have seen that $550 million spent making traffic flow more smoothly down here. But it was a nice trip anyway.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.