CARSON CITY — So much for the one-day special session.
It only took a day in 2013 for the Nevada Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval to introduce, debate, pass and sign into law a bill regulating online poker. And it took essentially only one day in 2014 for the Legislature to authorize a $1.3 billion tax incentive package for Tesla Motor’s battery production plant near Reno.
But by late in the afternoon Friday, the second full day of the 29th special session called to consider a $330 million incentive package for Faraday Future’s North Las Vegas assembly plant, only one bill had passed.
A second bill — the one with the majority of the tax package in it — was expected to be approved Friday evening. Two more bills were reportedly on the way, but amendments and arguments still awaited lawmakers as this column was written. What was expected to be a two-day special session ending on Friday was sure to stretch into the weekend.
It wasn’t the philosophical arguments against the idea of giving tax incentives to well-funded foreign corporations that was holding things up, although some representatives from the Libertarian Party of Nevada showed up to attack the incentives and the economic assumptions that undergird the package. One of their number threatened state senators, telling them they would neither be forgotten nor forgiven if they voted for the tax package.
It wasn’t the technical details holding it up, either — state Sen. Ruben Kihuen argued for resident alien identification cards to be used to establish proof of residency in a section of the bill that aimed at ensuring at least half the workers on the project are bona fide Nevada residents.
No, instead it was municipal concerns. The city of North Las Vegas had argued fruitlessly behind the scenes against provisions that put the city’s general fund on the hook to make up the difference if revenue bonds sold to finance the building of infrastructure at Apex don’t meet projections.
Under the bill, revenue from special districts will be used to pay off infrastructure bonds, but if that money falls short, the city’s general fund would be tapped to make up the difference. (After that, state funds would be used to pay off any gap.) City officials argue they will be unable to use their bond authority to buy long-neglected capital items such as police cars if the bill passed as written. And while Deputy City Manager Ryann Juden testified in “support” of the bill, he told senators frankly he would travel down the hallway to the Assembly seeking an amendment.
Then there were the concerns about water policy. Initially, the project is expected to use groundwater, although ultimately a pipeline to Lake Mead is expected to supply Faraday — and any other development that locates in the area — with water from the valley’s prime source. But concerns about changing sensitive water rights and adopting new water policy with scant consideration prompted officials to simply remove those items from the Senate bill, and punt the issue into the Assembly. There, two other bills were expected to be introduced and debated over the weekend.
There are certainly better ways to make policy, as this process suffers from the obvious deficiency of being tied to a specific project with specific requests that were essentially approved by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development beforehand. (That, too, became a source of controversy; state Sen. Patricia Farley objected to language that gave the office’s director more authority. That was changed to involve the appointed economic development board of directors.)
By the time you read this, the deal may finally be done. But like everything involving the Nevada Legislature, the road to get there was more circuitous than anyone initially imagined.
— Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.