The Two Faces of the Legislature

Is there some Jekyll to its Hyde?

The notion that the state Legislature has more than one personality makes sense, since it has 63 members. But as a body, the Legislature never ceases to be depressing. Except when it’s exhilarating.

It’s easy to be depressed about the Legislature’s handling of taxes and the economy—or to admire how badly it mangles them. Democrats led by Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick are pushing an entertainment tax, which isn’t a bad idea, since it wouldn’t be raising the sales tax that everybody pays. But it’s still another regressive tax that targets equally the pocketbook of the poorest (who might have scrimped to be able to buy a ticket at the cineplex) and the wealthiest (who can afford the most expensive seats at whatever Vegas show they like).

Meanwhile, some Republicans in the state Senate are urging a higher mining tax, which is the best news since the invention of fire.

So, why aren’t Democrats falling all over themselves to support Minority Leader Michael Roberson and company?

First, because Republicans brought up the idea. While Kirkpatrick and state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis really do want to work with the other side, they have reason to be leery. The proposal comes from members of a party that has been opposed to and dishonest about tax hikes for many years. Think back to 2003: Governor Kenny Guinn, a Republican, proposed a hike of more than $800 million. A group of 15 Republicans countered by saying they would accept a $704 million increase. This somehow allowed them to present themselves as anti-tax crusaders and to win support from people who accused Guinn of being a tax-and-spend liberal. (Guinn’s proposal ultimately passed anyway.)

Second, the mining-tax proposal may well have a streak of duplicity to it. It’s tied to the Republican desire to defeat a business-tax proposal that teachers managed to put on the ballot for 2014. Would Republicans propose a mining tax hike in hopes of killing the much-needed business tax, and then hope the mining tax goes down, too? Think back to 2006, when activists won a place on the ballot for an initiative against smoking in various public places, and the gaming industry got a rival initiative on the ballot in order to confuse, divide and conquer. (The industry’s effort failed, and the original initiative passed.)

Third, Governor Brian Sandoval continues to claim to oppose all taxes except the ones he already likes, so who knows whether any of it will matter?

Of course, Democrats are hardly untainted. They’re thumping for a tax break for struggling filmmakers like Nicolas Cage, whose visit to Carson City to lobby for the tax break produced the kind of slavering from legislators and media alike that used to be considered embarrassing in polite company. So they want to make it easier for Cage to make a movie but tougher for me to be able to afford to see it?

But then, suddenly, things happen that give you hope:

• One of Cage’s opponents, Steve Wynn, opposes the entertainment tax but supports a business tax. Kirkpatrick reportedly walked out when Wynn started yelling at her on that subject.

• After the state Senate approved the resolution to put the gay-marriage ban back on the ballot and give Nevada voters the chance to redeem themselves for earlier bigotry, the Assembly held a hearing filled with eloquence and empathy.

• Lawmakers seem inclined to support measures to force transparency on state agencies and empower themselves more in the governing process, perhaps a first step on the road to long-needed annual sessions.

• Democrats and Republicans alike voiced their displeasure with the proposal from the governor’s budget chief to make state employee pay cuts permanent.

So it turns out the Legislature has some Jekyll to its Hyde. We’d like to see a bit more of the good doctor.

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