Legislature won’t trade taxes for reforms

Compromise is still a dirty word in Carson City.

Once again, there will be no grand bargain from the Legislature, no trade of money-saving government and education reforms for major new revenues for schools and mental health services. The Democratic majority’s leadership never even tried to make a deal with the Republican minority.

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, fell back on the same playbook that failed Democratic leaders before them. Instead of being open and involving the opposition in the creation of a tax plan, they withheld their bills until the final weeks of the session. Sen. Denis proposed a big boost in the modified business tax, a levy that already punishes job creation, a levy his own party previously supported eliminating. Ms. Kirkpatrick suggested expanding the state’s live entertainment tax to recreational activities, movie theaters and gym memberships.

The plans were toxic to members of their own caucuses, let alone Republicans. Meanwhile, Sen. Denis and Ms. Kirkpatrick made sure the Republicans’ most important bills — the very bills needed to win GOP votes for tax increases — went nowhere. Most never got a hearing.

And so, on Wednesday, Sen. Denis declared Democrats’ plans to raise taxes dead. In an emotional address on the Senate floor, he stated his personal wish to do more for children but lamented the Legislature’s collective failure to come through. That led to a lively back and forth between senators about who was at fault.

All knew what it would take to produce the $300 million in new spending money Democrats wanted. Nevada’s constitution requires a two-thirds vote in each house to raise taxes. Democrats do not have that margin in either chamber. They needed a single GOP vote in the Assembly and three in the Senate. And Republican lawmakers had said they could support tax increases, provided they didn’t hurt businesses. A few even campaigned on such statements last year. But if they were going to support legislation that angered their base, they expected Democrats to do the same.

In the end, any kind of deal was made impossible by the dark cloud that hovered over the entire session: the 2 percent margins tax that was put on the 2014 ballot by the state teachers union.

It’s bad enough that this tax, if approved, will hammer even money-losing operations. But aside from sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of wounded companies, the tax serves another purpose for the state’s labor groups: It makes a legislative compromise unnecessary. Democrats would get their new spending money without having to vote for any Republican reforms in return. No pension reform. No collective bargaining reform. No construction defect litigation reform, prevailing wage reform, school vouchers or parent triggers.

Senate Republicans proposed a ballot question to increase in mining taxes as an alternative to the margins tax initiative, but Democrats refused to go along with that as well. Democrats said they opposed the plan because it provided no immediate funding for schools — then they made sure their own demand went nowhere.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $6.6 billion budget does nothing to starve government. Far from it, the plan boosts education spending by almost $500 million over the next two years, including expansions of full-day kindergarten and English Language Learner programs.

But the failure to do more can’t be pinned on GOP intransigence. Republicans were willing to deal. Democrats weren’t.

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