Vote counts, not budget numbers, will dominate endgame

CARSON CITY

And here I thought conservatives favored less government.

But that’s not the story emerging from closed Republican Assembly caucus meetings, where conservatives apparently have no problems arguing that Monday’s 120-day constitutional deadline should pass without action on a tax plan needed to fund the state’s budget.

Why? Intentionally missing the deadline won’t change the number of Assembly members willing to vote for, or vote against, a tax plan. It won’t change the expressions of support for the plan from a wide variety of business groups, or the opposition from others. And missing the deadline will only increase the pressure on lawmakers to finish their work and go home.

So what’s the point?

Apparently, some in the conservative caucus believe there’s a chance to reopen closed state budgets, cut millions from the spending plan, and obviate the need for at least some of the taxes contained in the Nevada Revenue Plan. (One portion of that tax, the commerce tax on business revenue of more than $3.5 million per year, would raise an estimated $242 million over the two-year biennium, according to the governor’s office.)

This, of course, is never going to happen. For one, the budgets have received thorough vetting from committees in the Assembly and Senate, and majority approval. For another, Gov. Brian Sandoval is unlikely to give up on the programs he outlined back in January in his State of the State speech. Review and debate over budgets has been done; now’s the time to decide how to fund it.

Whether the Legislature adjourns on time does come down to numbers, but not the numbers in the budget. Instead, the number in question is how many Assembly Republicans can be found to vote for the Nevada Funding Plan. The prevailing wisdom (at least as of right now, days before the deadline and an eternity in legislative time) is that the magic 28 “ayes” will be found, and an unnecessary extension of the session won’t happen.

■ Nevada schools got some good news on Thursday, as the Assembly passed the much-debated Read by 3 bill, which requires students to show they can read by the time they wrap up the third grade.

Although the bill passed the state Senate unanimously, four members of the Assembly voted no, citing the costs of the program. But the costs of not implementing it are more dire. Studies clearly show that students who aren’t proficient in reading by the time they arrive in fourth grade only fall further and further behind. They tend to drop out more, and struggle with the tests that are required to earn a diploma, get into college or get a good-paying job.

Not only that, but if our state’s schools are unable to teach reading by the end of the third grade, they’re failing, and we all need to know about it, so we can fix whatever problem is leading to that failure. Sandoval was right to push for this bill, and the Legislature was right to pass it.

■ Assemblyman Pat Hickey’s Assembly Bill 273, which would impose a two-year cooling-off period on former lawmakers before they could return to lobby their former colleagues, isn’t exactly controversial. After all, former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff emerged from prison embracing that very idea. And Hickey’s bill passed the Legislature without a single vote in opposition.

But that doesn’t mean the reform, which Sandoval signed into law on Thursday, is insignificant. The lobbying game is one of relationships, and former lawmakers naturally have closer relationships with their former colleagues than do outsiders. Trading on one’s former position isn’t at all uncommon, either. (Two former speakers and two former majority leaders can be found among the current crop of lobbyists.)

Do we need more lobbying reforms? Absolutely. But Hickey’s bill is a good place to start.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. He’s in Carson City to cover the final days of the 2015 Nevada Legislature. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) for up-to-the-minute updates. Reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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