After a year of rhetorical warfare in Nevada politics, the state will have to actually get down to business this year. The 2013 Legislature has a lot on its plate—especially the perennially kicked-down-the-road issues of revenue, education and legislative efficiency. Here are my fearless—maybe even reckless—predictions for the year ahead:
• Mining will be even more of an issue than usual. At least one group will be pushing to raise mining taxes or even amend the Nevada Constitution. Meanwhile, the industry will be getting some national scrutiny because of a push in Congress to change the 1872 Mining Law—at least the part exempting mining from paying royalties on money made from federal land. (A certain Senate majority leader has done his best to protect the mining industry and Nevada jobs, despite rural Nevada’s belief that he is the devil incarnate.)
• Gov. Brian Sandoval’s support for Medicaid expansion is an early sign that the 2014 governor’s election will influence the 2013 legislative session, which begins February 4. Sandoval faces no danger in a primary; if Republicans challenge him from the right, he’ll overwhelm them. But he wants to seem moderate enough for general-election voters and his national ambitions, so he’ll probably compromise more than at the previous session.
• The Economic Forum, which projects revenue for the Legislature because Nevada doesn’t believe in efficient government, low-balled the numbers lawmakers work from. That will affect other fiscal matters and may require belt-tightening elsewhere, making budget negotiations as unpleasant as usual. Add in Medicaid costs, and there’s a new weapon in the battle.
• The Legislature will have its usual crash landing, but the trip there should be smoother. Last time, Speaker John Oceguera and Senate Leader Steven Horsford had plans for Congress in 2012; new Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis are close, and neither reasonably expects to run for a major higher office next time around. But term limits upended the Legislature’s seniority system and institutional memory, and new or junior lawmakers will crash into one another so much, they’ll make NASCAR look like a buggy ride.
• As usual, higher education will cause agitation, but for new reasons. The Nevada System of Higher Education is proposing changes to the funding formula. That probably will provoke a North-South fight, since more money would head to Southern Nevada. All sides in the Legislature will be pushed to demand more accountability from the chancellor and administrators, who will balk at having to follow rules.
• The Nevada State Education Association will keep pushing its initiative to tax companies with gross revenues of more than $1 million a year, and legislators will fight over whether to meet them partway—before deciding not to. Nonetheless, the initiative fight will go on.
• Guarantees: I guarantee that lawmakers will invoke “accountability,” “transparency,” “economic diversification,” “job creation,” “ethics reform” and “campaign finance reform” without being able to act on any of them. One reason for that is the lack of annual sessions. I also guarantee that I will criticize the lack of annual sessions. And I guarantee that no matter what I say, we will not get annual sessions.