There is something fundamentally wrong with our system of government when the citizenry lives in fear of the legislative process.
Yet that’s just the message of the Nevada State Bank survey reported on this edition’s front page. Small- business owners told the survey takers that new taxes and regulations are atop their list of concerns.
Clearly we as a state have a problem that needs to be addressed. And the answer isn’t less government. It is more government.
Heresy? Perhaps. It’s certainly an uncommon view in the Silver State. But there’s reason behind the counterintuitive solution. Bear with me a minute.
Two situations this session stick in my craw.
One is the overriding issue of enacting new taxes to fund a widely popular overhaul of the state’s underperforming education system. It’s hard to tell when Gov. Brian Sandoval decided this would be his primary push this session. Certainly the cement hardened Election Night when he scored a decisive victory. The rallying of political forces went public soon after.
Yet here we sit, six months downstream, looking at a choice between combinations of a flawed payroll tax and a flawed business license tax. The third option — a sales tax on services — is seemingly off the table because it’s too complex and time is too short to fully understand its implications.
Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce had enough time to commission a study on the topic. Why didn’t the governor or a legislative committee do the same? Perhaps such study would reveal that solution is even more flawed than the ones that are still alive in Carson City. But it would have been nice to know.
Then there’s the matter of workplace safety. Federal OSHA put out new rules a few months ago but it’s going to take Nevada two years to bring its OSHA regulations into compliance.
It seems there wasn’t enough time between the federal pronouncement and the legislative bill cutoff for the bill writers to get the job done. So workplace safety twists in the wind for two years, with state inspectors unable to enforce rules that don’t yet exist.
So what are we left to take from these two examples of underperforming state government?
First, the system is indeed broken. No, we shouldn’t rejoice at the inability to legislate. Rather we need to devise a better system to legislate intelligently.
One solution would be to add a second off-year legislative session where taxes and fees are deliberately off the table. In a short session — think 30-45 days — legislators could deal with policy issues and set the stage for the longer budget-dominated session to come.
It’s a solution that other states — New Mexico and Connecticut come to mind — have adopted with some success. It’s recipe for reducing legislative chaos. The price tag would be minor. But it would test our will as Nevadans to leave behind our frontier past and recognize that the future belongs to the thinkers and innovators, not the cowboys employing century-old methods.