Gov. Steve Sisolak endured his 100th day in office last week and told the Review-Journal over the weekend that governing Nevada has its challenges. “I don’t necessarily have as much authority” over the legislative process, he said, explaining the deliberative pace of sausage-making in Carson City.
But while the governor, a Democrat, awaits a slew of bills he hopes will advance his agenda, he also told the newspaper he remains committed to ensuring the public has access to government records, something he championed when he chaired the Clark County Commission.
“I mean, we’re doing the people’s business,” Gov. Sisolak said. “That information has to be made available.” He went on: “When you say public records, people need to remember they’re public. That means the public has a right to see them. It shouldn’t be a game of, you know, hide and seek in terms of how to find” them.
These are encouraging comments, particularly given recent developments at the Legislature.
On Monday, the state Senate voted 11-10 to approve Senate Bill 224, which would make secret certain details about public pension payouts. The measure garnered no Republican support. Two Democrats — Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Marilyn Dondero Loop — also opposed the effort. Good for them. This likely means there aren’t enough votes in the upper chamber to override a veto.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, argues unconvincingly that privacy and identity theft concerns of government retirees supersede the rights of the taxpayers who are forced to pay for these lifetime pensions. In fact, SB224 is a sop to public-employee unions and a full-frontal assault on transparency and open government at a time when public pension systems across the country are under increasing scrutiny for their generous benefits and troubling fiscal projections.
Sen. Ratti ignores a basic concept: Contributions from state taxpayers pay for Nevada’s government retirement benefits, thus the taxpayers have a right to access the specifics regarding how their money is spent. Rather than hiding information in the shadows, Nevada lawmakers should focus instead on making it easier for the citizens to examine government documents. Secrecy breeds cynicism, mistrust and corruption, corrosive elements for any healthy democratic republic.
SB224 now moves on to the Assembly. Gov. Sisolak no doubt hopes to avoid exercising his veto pen during a session in which his own party has firm control of the Legislature. But he can solidify his commitment to open government and public records by making clear to the Democratic leadership in the lower chamber that, if they don’t lock SB224 in a drawer, he’ll have no choice but to kill the proposal if it lands on his desk.