Et tu, Dawn?

Watching Sen. Zell Miller, D-Georgia, give his keynote address at the recent Republican National Convention, I got the distinct impression that Democrats must feel the same way as I do when one of my own party stabs me in the back. As if dealing with “the enemy” weren’t bad enough, it gets downright depressing when one of your own party doesn’t “get it.”

Witness the State Constitutional Ballot Initiative Question No. 1, set in motion by Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, R-Reno.

The initiative has its roots in chaos. When unable to garner enough support from Assembly Republicans to get the two-thirds majority required to pass the largest tax increase in state history in the closing days of the last regular session, Democrats in the Assembly refused to allow a separate up-or-down vote on the school budget. Instead, they wrapped education spending into the tax bill, a move that brought the Legislature to a screaming halt. The result, after two special sessions, was Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn suing the Legislature. When the dust had settled, the justices of the Nevada Supreme Court revealed to the rest of the nation how absolutely ignorant they are of constitutional law and interpretation when they deftly set aside the two-thirds requirement by calling it a “procedural rule.”

The “procedural rule” may become statutory. The initiative could force the state Legislature to fund K-12 public education before it passes any other appropriations bills. If voters approve the measure in November and again in the 2006 vote, it would amend the state constitution, requiring the Legislature to provide “sufficient” money to finance public schools before any other programs are funded.

The initiative’s language can be found on the Internet at, but it begins like this: “An act relating to the funding of public education; amending the Constitution of the State of Nevada to require the Legislature to fund the operation of the public schools for kindergarten through grade 12 before any other part of the state budget for the next biennium is funded; providing that any appropriation enacted in violation of that requirement is void; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”

In fairness, the initiative is one I can characterize as having good intentions, but overall it’s a bad idea. Ironically, the two-thirds requirement for the tax hike came as a result of a prior initiative brought on by Congressman Jim Gibbons himself, long before his wife became one of several turncoat Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of the $883 million tax hike.

The education establishment undoubtedly is salivating at the thought of being first in line at the taxpayer buffet. Some polls estimate as many as 70 percent of Nevadans agree with the initiative.

“To say that you are funding education first, the public thinks that you will make it a priority and put more money there,” Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, was quoted as saying in the Reno Gazette-Journal. “But this is not making education a financial priority. It is making it a scheduling priority, so people who sign this are being misled. All this will mean is that the education budget would be passed five minutes before the others.”

I must admit that I agree. If we are going to take such decisions out of our elected officials’ hands, then perhaps we need to take it further. That is, amend the state’s constitution to set all of the state’s funding priorities—from homeland security to social services to education.

The reality is that this initiative isn’t necessary. What is really needed is an amendment to cap the authority of legislators to overspend. Government should be required to live within its means. Legislators shouldn’t have carte blanche to hit up taxpayers just because they can’t work a calculator.