Trip to Carson City leads to bizarre place

CARSON CITY

I was fairly sure when I boarded the Southwest Airlines jet at McCarran International Airport that I was headed to Reno.

I recall following the freeway road signs in my rental car to Carson City.

Everything looks familiar: the capital building, the Legislative Building, Adele’s restaurant and my hotel.

But I suppose it’s entirely possible that, somewhere along the way, I accidentally made a wrong turn and ended up in Bizarro Carson City. It’s a mirror universe where black is white, up is down and Republicans and Democrats have switched roles.

On Thursday, a bill that would extend the voter-registration deadline to the Friday before Election Day finally passed the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. It was held up not by the two Republicans on the panel — who opposed it anyway — but by some of the committee’s Democrats.

Chairwoman Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, made some passionate remarks in favor of the bill Tuesday, saying it could help military members going off to or coming home from war zones maintain their voter registration. But it seemed for a time that Spearman was the only person on the committee in favor the measure, with even Democrats Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, and Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, publicly expressing skepticism.

In the end, after a two-day delay, the measure passed 3-2, with Spearman, Atkinson and Manendo in support and Republicans James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, and Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, opposed.

Maybe things aren’t so bizarre after all?

But I was plunged back into the alternate dimension when I tuned in to the Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee Thursday, where Democrats were arguing for a much shorter “sunset” provision on a Clark County sales tax increase that will be used to hire more police officers.

Democrats — led by David Parks, D-Las Vegas — wanted the 0.15-percentage-point increase to expire after just four years, while Republicans favored the original bill, which doesn’t end the tax until 2025.

Republicans — led by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson — argued passionately against Parks’ amendment. They got some support from Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who has tirelessly argued to pass the increase. Gillespie said the longer term would be better for planning purposes, because the money will be used to hire officers whose careers presumably will last 20 or 30 years. But the sales tax increase with the short “sunset” is better than nothing, Gillespie said.

(A glum sheriff probably realized he’d have to return to Carson City in 2017 to argue to extend the tax.)

Republicans tried to pass the bill without the amendment, but were outvoted by Democrats. The bill — with the amendment — passed.

Republicans arguing to keep a sales tax for more than a decade, but Democrats wanting to limit it to four years? Even if we acknowledge that temporary taxes are hardly ever temporary, it’s still bizarre.

Another bit of tax news: The Assembly Taxation Committee — on a party-line vote — approved Senate Joint Resolution 15, which would remove the constitutional cap on mining taxes and pave the way for higher taxes on that industry in the future.

The resolution first passed in 2011, thanks to the efforts of former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. But Leslie was defeated in 2012, and instead of taking up the cause, her fellow Democrats appeared content to the let the resolution drop. Enter Roberson, who has championed the resolution and even wants a bill to tax mining to be placed on the 2014 ballot, as an alternative to a business margins tax initiative that he says will kill jobs. He says Democrats would have let SJR15 die a quiet death had he not put the issue on the front pages.

It’s a bizarre world. I just hope I can find my way back to reality when it’s all over.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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