Survival, Nevada Style

The irony was evident: Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill allowing students who failed one of the four portions of the Nevada High School Proficiency Exam to graduate. But Sandoval’s getting high marks in the media for a performance that was below average at best.

For months, Sandoval preached the gospel of “no new taxes.” So did most of his fellow Republicans—and when they seemed to wander, he corralled them, and most of them returned with their tails between their legs.

Indeed, Sandoval may have been more involved with the Legislature than any governor since Democrat Richard Bryan in the 1980s. Several legislators accused his successors, Democrat Bob Miller and Republican Kenny Guinn, of doing too little, and gave thanks that Republican Jim Gibbons didn’t involve himself more.

Democratic leaders—Speaker John Oceguera and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford—alternately cajoled and threatened Republicans, with no success. Some of their own caucuses grew disputatious. As more than one Democrat said, every negotiation with Republicans involved them getting what they wanted and Democrats conceding more.

Then came the, ahem, miracle: The Nevada Supreme Court ruled the Legislature acted unconstitutionally in 2009 when it took funds from the Clean Water Coalition for state purposes. There went Sandoval’s supposedly carefully crafted budget. Suddenly, he was willing to negotiate to retain some, if not all, taxes passed in 2009 and designed to “sunset” in 2011. He and the Legislature hammered out a deal, with his policy adviser saying future governors and lawmakers would have to deal with the ruling’s broader effects. So much for reform.

Republican lawmakers divided over the plan. Right-wing activists, who still think Ronald Reagan cut taxes, sounded like they were having surgery without anesthetic. But most lawmakers and analysts, and those affected by their work, hailed the deal.

Not so fast.

First, while Barrick Gold pays $7.8 billion for a copper company and the mining industry claims it can’t pay higher taxes, the state still is making significant cuts that affect and afflict those who can least afford them—or as Hubert Humphrey, whose centennial recently went by almost unnoticed, put it so well, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” Add in pay cuts for all state workers rather than exempting the lowest-paid, who already are close to needing welfare if they aren’t already there, and the celebrants should be ashamed.

Second, you’re either principled or you aren’t. If Sandoval believed “no new taxes” would get him the GOP vice presidential nomination he slavers for, fine, but suddenly, old taxes that were due to die are acceptable? And our educational system was such a mess that it required deep cuts and reforms, but he kept putting money back in to allow it to survive? Criticize Democrats if you want, but they fought for new revenue streams and at least maintained some degree of principle.

Third, note the GOP’s “principles.” On May 25, a parade passed before the legislative money committees, pleading to keep the taxes passed in 2009 and about to sunset. The pleaders included Tim Crowley, lobbying for the Nevada Mining Association, whose members have enjoyed a ridiculous tax break since Nevada became a state; Billy Vassiliadis, representing the Nevada Resort Association; and Phil Satre, speaking for International Game Technology and NV Energy.

The Republican reaction? “No.” Nevada’s biggest businesses volunteered to pay. Republicans, with the governor pressuring them, turned them down. If Crowley, Vassiliadis, Satre, et al., are as smart as they are supposed to be, why would they ever trust, much less support, any Nevada Republican after this?

But this is Nevada. Bet on amnesia.