It is useful to remember what was happening at this time two years ago. The people of the state of Nevada were watching a train wreck unfold at the Nevada Legislature. An empowered minority acted like the town in the Kipling story that voted itself the center of the universe. Its members smugly decided that because they had 15 votes, they need not convince the public or their legislative colleagues of the merits of their case against tax increases.
So the legislative session ended without a budget. So did a second special session. Finally the majority, with a dramatic court decision in hand, was able to enact a budget and bring business to a close.
The outraged anti-tax legislators and their supporters had most of the volume and so got most of the ink and the air time when they boldly predicted that the Nevada public would punish the tax supporters.
There was some of that, notably the defeats of Assemblymember Jason Geddes and Sen. Ray Rawson, both Republicans taken out in the primaries. But generally, the public showed understanding and maturity in not taking tax votes as any kind of litmus test. In fact, when the sound and fury and elections were over, those who supported the tax increases had enlarged their ranks in the Legislature.
The level of good sense shown by the voters now needs to be shown by the lawmakers. The new taxes produced funds that substantially exceeded the amount economists and fiscal experts had projected in 2003. It is imperative that the lawmakers not treat the additional and unexpected money as a petty cash drawer for use as they see fit. It would be unseemly and unfair for the public to behold legislators they supported gleefully proclaiming, “Hey, we got lucky!” There are no doubt good programs that need this money, but they must wait.
The increased and expanded programs funded by these tax hikes two years ago were necessary. The legislators have an obligation to keep them at responsible funding levels and then return the surplus to the public. Gov. Guinn and Democratic leaders have both pledged themselves to do this, but strange things have been known to happen to unallocated funds in the closing days of legislatures and, besides, the two sides have been quarreling over how to return the money. We don’t particularly care how the money is returned. Gov. Guinn proposes car registration refunds; the Democrats favor a sales-tax holiday.
The Democrats met the Guinn proposal with a laundry list of reasons why it wouldn’t work, something Guinn didn’t do to the Democratic proposal. The public would be better served by the Democrats if they looked for ways that these proposals could work than for reasons they can’t. We hope Gov. Guinn is open to alterative proposals if they serve his basic goals.
While the Democrats have been more obstreperous, neither side has shown the kind of dogmatic inflexibility we saw two years ago, and, in that, they have served the public well. We urge both sides to take that willingness to work together and find a way to return the surplus to the public. If that happens, the public will know its forbearance in the elections was not misplaced, and that politicians don’t always live down to our expectations.