State legislators scrambled through the final hours of the 2011 session, but they weren’t hung up on the state budget. For months, conventional wisdom held that compromise was a remote possibility in funding education, social services, public safety and regulatory functions for the next two years. Instead, a $6.2 billion spending plan was agreed to last week.
That deal freed up the final day of the session for haggling over various policy issues and favored bills. Some of the last-minute work was good, some bad, and some was just plain ugly.
First, the good: The Senate passed Assembly Bill 571, which would amend the voter-approved Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act by allowing smoking in bars that serve food. We’re reluctant to overturn the will of voters, but the state’s smoking ban was pitched to the electorate as a tool to protect children. Yet it applied to bars — where kids aren’t allowed — and wiped out hundreds of service-sector jobs and closed many businesses. This is a common-sense revision to a deeply flawed law. Gov. Brian Sandoval should sign it.
Meanwhile, the Assembly passed Senate Bill 506 — after rejecting it twice — to allow the badly needed Boulder City bypass to be built as toll road, which is currently prohibited by state law. This was one of the most important bills of the session, as evidenced by the Democratic majority’s insistence on holding it hostage. The toll road has the potential to relieve a terrible bottleneck in Boulder City created by the opening of the Hoover Dam bypass bridge and Nevada’s antiquated approach to the span.
Las Vegas’ push for a state-of-the-art stadium and arena wasn’t enough to get SB501 passed. The bill would have created “facility districts” to help finance construction of a project by diverting site tax revenues to developers. The legislation was introduced too late in the session to get a tho-rough airing, and Clark County voters will decide the fate of a Strip arena in 2012 regardless. A plan this complicated needs months of transparent consideration.
Showing that no money is safe from lawmakers, the Senate also passed AB219, which allows the state to take most of the money from casinos’ unclaimed slot tickets. This stream isn’t tax revenue, it was counted on as private-sector profit.
The worst machination of the final hours, however, was the Assembly Democrats’ attempt to pass AB582, which would have placed their massive tax hike plan — new levies on services and business revenue — on the 2012 ballot. Democrats had agreed to kill the plan as part of the bipartisan budget compromise, but let greed trump their word. The Democratic caucus pulled the bill in response to GOP opposition.
The Legislature will have to wait two more years before they try to get their hands on still more of your money.