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Frustration reigns in Carson City

Disappointment and frustration are two guaranteed results of democracy. And Nevada’s just-concluded 2011 Legislature produced plenty of both for liberals and conservatives.

Conservatives were disappointed and frustrated with some public employee reforms. Sure, teachers will stay on probation longer; the most senior teachers won’t be able to “bump” less experienced ones in the event of layoffs; supervising employees in all public jobs won’t be represented by unions, and contracts will have to be re-opened in times of financial crisis.

But at least one reform conservatives were really aiming for — eliminating binding arbitration and allowing city councils and county commissions to decide disputed contract terms — never really had a serious hearing.

Conservatives were also frustrated that taxes set to expire on July 1 will continue for at least another two years. They’d have preferred more budget cuts instead.

That brings us to the Americans for Tax Reform pledge overseen most vigorously in Nevada by my friend Chuck Muth. He said in a recent Internet message that liberals hate the pledge because it’s effective. All Republicans who signed the no-tax pledge ended up voting against taxes, Muth reports.

Of course they did. And it’s a fair bet none of them even considered any other course. That doesn’t make them courageous, smart or good legislators. It just makes them inured to reasonable counter-arguments. And in the end, it made them wholly irrelevant, because who needs to negotiate with those who cannot compromise, especially when they comprise a minority of a minority?

The real reason everyone should dislike the pledge is that it rests on a false premise, that taxes are always bad and that government is always too big, such that it must be reduced, as pledge creator Grover Norquist once said, to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. What Norquist didn’t add is obvious: Once government is that size, they’ll go ahead and drown it!

But Nevada has “big government” exclusively in the minds of people for whom almost any government is too big. Fortunately for the state, Gov. Brian Sandoval was in no mood to drown what little government we do have because of ideology. He did the only reasonable or prudent thing he could do: He compromised. The state will be better off for Sandoval’s leadership.

Special interests didn’t do much better: A victory for the tavern associations — a reasonable bill to amend the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act to allow smoking in 21-and-over stand-alone bars — disappointed and frustrated health advocates, who said the will of the voters had been thwarted.

Advocates of a trio of arena proposals were disappointed and frustrated to see a tailor-made bill undone by the expert questioning of Assembly Taxation Committee Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

And open-government types were disappointed and frustrated to see a bill die that would have required lobbyists to disclose spending on lawmakers during the 18 months the Legislature is out of session. London junkets? Bahamas conventions? Still perfectly legal, and totally sub rosa. Enjoy, lawmakers.

On the other hand, liberals also faced plenty of disappointment and frustration.

First, a late-breaking attempt to broaden and flatten the tax base — something this state has desperately needed for decades — fell flat.

Blame can partly rest with Democratic leaders, who introduced the plan late so as to avoid giving their Republican opposition time to criticize it. The result was that some very good ideas never got the serious vetting they deserved.

And then, with just a couple hours left in the session, Democrats tried to introduce their plan as a ballot initiative. Republicans balked.

Liberals also didn’t get the kind of mining tax reforms they wanted. While they stripped the industry of the power of eminent domain (a power that should never have rested in private hands in the first place), the tax deductions they wrung from mining were relatively paltry. And a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the constitutional limitation on mining taxes will take at least five years, even if Sandoval signs on.

Liberals also lost on the budget. They added to Sandoval’s spending, but were forced to cut back those additions.

They say a good compromise is one in which both sides are unhappy, and certainly that’s true here. Such is often the result of democracy.

 

Steve Sebelius is author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius orReach him at 387-5276 or at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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