A tax hike on everyone

State lawmakers are rightly worried about the effect of tax increases on a fragile economy. Families and businesses are still hurting, more than four years after the hardest blows of the Great Recession. Every dollar matters.

Why, then, are those same lawmakers so gung-ho about Senate Bill 123, which will increase Nevadans’ power bills for years to come?

When energy prices rise, it’s a regressive tax increase on everyone. Every resident. Every business. Even schools and other governments. Costs are passed along to consumers and taxpayers. A power bill boost is a punch in the gut.

NV Energy’s SB123, labeled “NVision,” would close the electricity monopoly’s coal-fired plants and compel the construction of new gas-fired plants, as well as greater use of renewable power through construction or purchase. The hundreds of millions of dollars in new capital and fuel costs would be passed along to NV Energy customers, as well as the bills to pay off coal plants no longer in use.

Yet the bill passed the Senate on a unanimous vote, and opposition in the Assembly ranges from limited to nonexistent. Lawmakers have decided the benefits of abolishing cheap, coal-fired electricity outnumber the drawbacks of you paying more. Yes, natural gas burns cleaner than coal. But natural gas prices are more volatile than coal. And solar and wind power are still far more expensive than fossil fuels.

SB123 is a feel-good political initiative, not an economic one. Whatever jobs are created building new “NVision” infrastructure will destroy existing jobs in other industries through higher power bills.

This enormously complex, evolving legislation is being rushed through the Legislature as lawmakers push forward dozens of other bills before next week’s adjournment. Lawmakers cannot possibly understand its effects well enough to justify their enthusiastic support. These are issues best left to the regulators of the Public Utilities Commission, not elected lawmakers.

Gov. Brian Sandoval needs to be the public’s backstop here. SB123 is like other tax hikes he has promised to block. If the bill clears the Assembly, Gov. Sandoval should let the 2013 session’s 120-day clock run out, thereby denying lawmakers the ability to immediately override his veto.

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