Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger has spent years chronicling how the Democrats have devolved into the “party of the state and the public sector” through the ascension of powerful government unions, “whose lifeblood is tax revenue.”
His observations might neatly describe the recently concluded 2019 session of the Nevada Legislature.
Those on the left, Mr. Henninger wrote last week, “have come to regard the private sector as an alien tribe whose only function is to finance the public machinery” of the state. Indeed, at virtually every opportunity, majority Democrats in Carson City sought to protect or enrich their benefactors in organized labor — particularly in the public sector — at the expense of taxpayers, who, ironically pay the salaries of the army of government lobbyists working against their interests.
The examples are extensive:
■ Senate Bill 135 gives state workers for the first time the power to collectively bargain. Amendments diluted the measure somewhat, allowing the governor to ignore any labor agreement. But make no mistake, few Democratic chief executives will have the political courage to hold the line on escalating state personnel costs by disregarding a collective bargaining deal. This measure neatly sets the table for massive tax hikes in coming years to cover ever-escalating union demands. The excesses associated with public-sector collective bargaining have busted budgets across the country — and Nevada is now poised to make the same fiscal mistake.
■ Assembly Bill 136 forces school districts to pay the full prevailing wage for construction projects, repealing a break passed by majority Republicans in 2015. This will drive up costs for school districts at the same time Democrats wring their hands about education spending. Go figure.
■ Senate Bill 153 kills collective bargaining reforms passed four years ago. In particular, it forces taxpayers to again foot the bill for government workers who conduct union business on the clock. If public employees want to actively work on behalf of their labor organization, fine. But there’s simply no justification for handing the invoice to taxpayers.
■ Senate Bill 224 allows the state to keep secret certain details about public pensions. This legislation willfully undermines government accountability in an effort to curry favor with public-sector employees who enjoy generous retirement benefits paid for by those toiling in the private sector. Scrutiny of government pension plans is vital given that many such systems teeter on the brink of insolvency. Taxpayers fund these benefits and they have a right to know where their money goes. Instead, legislative Democrats and Gov.Steve Sisolak slammed the door on transparency.
■ Assembly Bill 289 guts a law intended to ensure Nevada children become reading proficient before moving on to fourth grade. The so-called Read by 3 statute demanded that kids not reading at grade level by the end of third grade be held back. The provision was set to become effective next school year, but AB289 makes retention optional, a sop to teacher unions and school districts petrified of the inevitable reaction if thousands of children with sub-standard reading skills are forced to repeat third grade. Such a shock may be precisely what the state needs to drive home the urgency of improving student performance through measures designed to increase accountability and produce results, but legislative Democrats prefer the failing status quo to protect union interests.
■ Senate Bill 551 killed a scheduled reduction of the Modified Business Tax without the necessary supermajority in the state Senate so legislative Democrats could funnel more money to education unions. Rather than compromise to gain GOP support, however, the majority leadership — abetted by lawyers at the Legislative Counsel Bureau — opted to simply ignore the constitutional provision demanding that any measure which “generates” or “raises” revenue be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses. In other words, Democrats put their allegiance to the teacher unions above their loyalty to voters and the state constitution.
It wasn’t all bad news. A bill strengthening the state’s public records statutes passed with bipartisan support in the waning hours despite opposition from public-sector lobbyists. On the whole, however, the 2019 session confirmed that Nevada taxpayers are far down the list of the state Democratic Party’s favored constituencies — if they’re on the list at all.