Question authority

This election will truly decide the future of the Truckee Meadows

Not that we’re betting folks, but we think that Question 2, the anti-gay constitutional amendment, will pass.

Not that we’re betting folks, but we think that Question 2, the anti-gay constitutional amendment, will pass.

Photo By David Robert

Ready. Get set. Vote.

What the hell is this? A 52-page sample ballot? What the heck’s a perpetuity? Reno wants to know whether it should secede from Washoe County? How stupid is that?

Many voters probably thought they were going to breeze into the polls on Nov. 5, give Bob Cashell a pat on the back, flick that Bic at The Man for keeping pot illegal and tell the Reno City Council to shove that train trench where the sun don’t shine—that is, until they saw the sample ballot.

We feel your pain. Our belief here at the RN&R is that the questions on this year’s ballot will launch more voters from their Barcaloungers than will the various candidates. From the environment to schools to pot to the protection of marriage, it seems there’s something motivating just about everyone to weigh in. On the other hand, some of these questions are so complex and so poorly explained on the ballots that we fear voters will be overwhelmed and stay home. Despite claims to the contrary, these ballot questions are written by lawyers for lawyers.

So we sent our reporters and editors out to talk to politicians, political scientists, educators, interested parties and bureaucrats to find out what these questions really mean. You can call it “dumbing down” or “interpretive,” whichever makes you feel better. But, in some cases, we apply a pseudo-Wittgensteinian razor, “If it doesn’t make sense, it is nonsense,” so even the intellectually superior voter can feel good about our endorsements.

And please, don’t take our word for it. Stop at the nearby watering hole a couple of hours before you hit the polls or bring your sample ballot to work. Read your sample ballot. Mark your choices on your ballot. You can consider our arguments if you’d like, but the stakes are truly too high to go unprepared to your polling place. And don’t forget to tip your bartender or waitress.


QUESTION NO. 1 Shall the State of Nevada be authorized to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $200 million in order to preserve water quality; protect open space, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and wildlife habitat; and restore and improve parks, recreational areas, and historic and cultural resources?

Despite what the fiscal note on the ballot says, this will result in a tax increase for property owners, and it’s likely to raise property taxes above the state cap. Environmental issues are exempted from the property tax limit. The only other exception to the limit is the state militia.

State government should have to be careful of how much debt it has. Still, the fact is, there is a reason that laws were made to allow certain environmental obligations to be outside the state’s legal debt limit: The quality of the environment is too important to let the vagaries of politicians and the economy decide whether problems get fixed or prevented.

It’s too important to increase, improve and maintain our parks and other environmental resources to wait for the legislature to have enough money to spend from the general fund. Frankly, we doubt that the Nevada Legislature would ever pay for some of this stuff in smaller chunks out of the general fund.

We’re going to vote yes on Question 1.

QUESTION NO. 2 Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to provide that: “Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state?”

This is the anti-gay, so-called “protection of marriage” question. If you believe, deep in your heart, in institutionalized prejudice, in letting the government legislate your bedroom, and that you are fundamentally superior to minorities, vote “yes” on Question 2. We’ll forgive you, but then we don’t have final judgment on stonethrowers.

We’re going to vote no on Question 2.

QUESTION NO. 3 Shall the Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955 be amended to provide an exemption from the taxes imposed by that act on the gross receipts from the sale and the storage, use or other consumption of farm machinery and equipment employed for the agricultural use of real property?

The argument in favor of Question 3 is that farmers in Nevada are buying much of their farm equipment in states where there is no tax on farm equipment. Since the farmers are going elsewhere anyway, Nevadans will lose little income by exempting farm equipment from sales tax. It is estimated that Nevadans will lose $97,000 in state sales tax income (out of $633.5 million). Exempting farm equipment may increase jobs here in the Silver State, which in turn increases the amount of sales and other taxes generated by new employees and businesses.

We’re going to vote yes on Question 3.

QUESTION NO. 4 Shall the Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955 be amended to provide an exemption from the taxes imposed by that act on engines and chassis, including replacement parts and components for the engines and chassis, of professional racing vehicles and for certain motor vehicles used by professional racing teams or sanctioning bodies to transport certain items and facilities?

This is a very similar proposition to Question 3. This issue got its start when some business folks down in Las Vegas were trying to seduce a racing organization, CART, to make its home in Las Vegas. Since there are very few businesses in the West building chassis or tour-quality engines outside of Southern California, it seemed that Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway were shoe-ins to become the Indianapolis of the West. Again, with few exceptions, since nobody is selling or manufacturing this stuff in Nevada, the exemption would have a negligible impact on the state’s overall tax base, and it may spur a new industry (and increase the overall tax base).

We’re going to vote yes on Question 4.

QUESTION NO. 5 Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to repeal the constitutional rule against perpetuities?

The rule against perpetuities essentially says that land can’t be tied up for a long period of time. It’s a 700-year-old doctrine that was written to prevent feudal lords from controlling land after their death. At its simplest, the rule against perpetuities prevents a person from bequeathing land to a person who won’t be born for 21 or more years.

This constitutional amendment would revoke the rule against perpetuities and allow Nevada legislators to set a legal limit on how long land can be rendered unusable and unsellable.

Question 9 will prevent medical marijuana patients from having to go to dealers for their seeds or pot. It will also allow responsible adults to smoke it at home around their kids.

Photo By Debra Reid

The problem is, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, it would actually create an opportunity for land to be tied up indefinitely. People who argue in favor of the amendment argue that it’s difficult to create business trusts in the state of Nevada, because businesses want reasonable flexibility in their long-term planning. Another argument is that some other states don’t have a rule against perpetuities on the books, so we shouldn’t. This seems to come under the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doctrine. Just because California made a law making it illegal for minorities to get married doesn’t mean we should do it, does it? That’s preposterous.

We don’t think dead people or immortal corporations should be able to tie up land.

We’re going to vote no on Question 5.

QUESTION NO. 6 Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to revise the term of office of a Supreme Court justice or district court judge who is appointed to fill a vacancy?

This constitutional amendment would basically give judges who are appointed to fill a court vacancy the guarantee of at least one year in office. The idea is that it isn’t fair to expect an appointee to shut down a law practice, go to judge school, run the court and run for office, all while he or she is trying to be fair and impartial in the courtroom. The judge would still have to run in the next even-numbered year and again when the regular judge election cycle comes up. Basically, an appointed judge could sit without being elected for up to three years. Seem clear as mud? That’s OK, it’s not going to happen more than every 100 years or so, and it’s important to make it as easy as possible on people who may be called in an emergency situation to perform public service.

We’re going to vote yes on Question 6.

QUESTION NO. 7 Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to allow an exemption from the state debt limit for state contracts necessary for the improvement, acquisition or construction of public elementary and secondary schools?

This is closely related to Question 1. As the law stands, there are only two exceptions where the state can increase its debt over the legal limit—environment and state militia. (In Nevada, the limit on the amount of this public debt is equal to 2 percent of the assessed value of all taxable property in the state.) This would add an exemption for education.

As it stands, the state has rarely used money out of the general fund to build or improve schools. What generally happens is the county school districts sell bonds to build or improve schools. Usually, if the state is going to do it, it’s because one of the poorer rural districts doesn’t have the money and can’t afford the debt.

So, this amendment would open a can of worms. The legislators could potentially put a whole bunch of different spending needs from a lot of jurisdictions onto one proposal, kind of like they did with Question 1. This may increase the likelihood of getting money to education, since people will vote in favor of their local self-interests.

Will passage of this amendment inevitably result in an increase in the state’s overall indebtedness? Probably. Will it increase property taxes statewide? Probably. Would passage of this amendment result in better schools statewide? Probably. Do our schools have the support they need to educate our children in safe surroundings that are conducive to learning?

We’re going to vote yes on Question 7.

QUESTION NO. 8 Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to authorize the Legislature to provide by law for a reduction in the property taxes on a single-family residence occupied by the owner to avoid a severe economic hardship to that owner?

If this question were only what it appears. It appears that the state would exempt a property owner who has suffered a devastating illness or unemployment from paying property taxes. There is nobody who would not support a law written specifically to protect a homeowner because of financially devastating illness. However, Question 8 takes it a step further: this law could also protect someone whose home has increased so much in value that he can no longer afford the property taxes.

Here’s the exact text of the measure: “The legislature may provide by law for an abatement of the tax upon or an exemption for part of the assessed value of a single-family residence occupied by the owner to the extent necessary to avoid severe economic hardship to the owner of the residence.”

Say somebody bought a home at Lake Tahoe 30 years ago. As the value of property up there increased, so did the property taxes. Suddenly, a choice has to be made between selling the home and paying the property tax. Fine, we’d support Ma and Pa Kettle if they couldn’t afford to pay their property taxes because of circumstances outside their control. Our fear is that, since legislators will set the parameters for who gets exemptions, the law won’t be written in such a way as to prevent rich people from avoiding taxes on their multi-million dollar homes.

We’re going to vote yes on Question 8, and hope that it’s our own cynicism that suggests that this law will have loopholes that favor wealthy people.

QUESTION NO. 9 Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to allow the use and possession of three ounces or less of marijuana by persons aged 21 years or older, to require the Legislature to provide or maintain penalties for using, distributing, selling or possessing marijuana under certain circumstances, and to provide a system of regulation for the cultivation, taxation, sale and distribution of marijuana?

We’ve covered this issue until we’re blue in the face. No, we don’t like the lies told by supporters of the constitutional amendment. No, we don’t like the lies told by opponents of this bill. No, we don’t believe we’ve heard all the facts on this issue. No, we don’t believe that medical marijuana users should have to go to drug dealers to get their medicine.

Yes, we’re going to vote yes on Question 9.


WCSD-1 Shall the Washoe County School District be authorized to issue general obligation school bonds to finance the acquisition, construction, improvement and equipping of school facilities? District projections at the time the bonds are issued must indicate that issuance of the bonds will not result in an increase of the existing school bond property tax rate of 38.85 cents ($0.3885) per $100 of assessed value. If approved, this authorization will expire November 5, 2012.

This is simpler than it appears. The Washoe County School District has sold bonds in the past to pay for school facilities. Those debts have resulted in a property tax rate of 38.85 cents for every $100 of a property’s assessed value. The school district wants to sell up to $309 million worth of bonds, as the old bonds are being retired. In other words, property taxes for schools won’t go up—but taxes won’t go down, either.

Our schools are struggling. Classrooms are overcrowded, the dropout rate isn’t decreasing fast enough, teachers are underpaid and our population is increasing. The quality of our children’s education is so bad that often students use the vulgar verb “suck” as a catchall denigration.

We’re going to vote yes on WCSD-1.

Barbara Surritte, a fifth grade teacher at Spanish Springs Elembtary, says she’ll vote yes on rollover bonds.

Photo By David Robert


WC-1 Shall the public water systems in the geographic area of Washoe County be allowed to adjust the naturally-occurring fluoride concentration in the drinking water to an optimum level recommended by public health authorities in order to reduce the occurrence of tooth decay?

This is a tough one. There are many intelligent arguments made for and against water fluoridation. However, the tone taken by the opponents, which has been mostly intended to induce fear rather than foster intelligent debate, sent us the other way.

If WC-1 passes, a public discussion and vote by the Washoe County Commissioners will be required before the water can be fluoridated.

We’re going to vote yes on WC-1.

WC-2 Shall the Washoe County Board of Commissioners seek state legislation for the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to obtain necessary additional funding for transportation projects that will reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, repair and maintain roads, and increase public transportation in the Truckee Meadows?

This advisory question gives our officials a mandate to go before the Nevada Legislature and ask for money so that our transportation system can grow as the population grows. The requested money will be structured to ensure RTC’s “buying power” maintains pace with inflation. It includes a one-eighth cent sales tax increase. We have reservations about adjusting taxes with the rate of inflation—that nearly ensures constant increases. It will be incumbent upon the Legislature to craft language that automatically decreases these fees and taxes when appropriate.

Nothing in this proposal will prevent future tax increases. Of course, that’s the game that’s always played with tax increases. However, we expect to be around for the next 30 years, and we’d like to get to work on time.

We’re going to vote yes on WC-2.

WC-3 Shall Washoe County be authorized to issue up to $10,750,000 of general obligation bonds to provide an animal shelter project and to levy an additional property tax rate for the purpose of operating and maintaining the animal shelter project and performing related animal control functions of up to 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for a period of up to 30 years? The bonds are expected to require a property tax levy for 30 years. The bonds are estimated to result in an increase in the property taxes that the owner of a new $100,000 home will pay which will average $1.98 per year. In addition, the cost of the 3 cents animal shelter operating property tax levy for the owner of a new $100,000 home is estimated to be $10.50 per year. However, an Interlocal Agreement between Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County, requires the 3 cents operating property tax rate increase to be fully offset by property tax reductions in the cities of Reno and Sparks of 3 cents and partially offset by a property tax reduction of 1 cent in the unincorporated areas of the County.

The animal control/shelter problem should have been straightened out 20 years ago. This $10.75 million would have only been a million if it had been taken care of sooner. It’s only going to get more expensive if it doesn’t pass now.

One of the good things about WC-3 is that it fosters consolidation of services between Washoe County, Reno and Sparks. It’s time for politicians to accept that few people see Reno-Sparks as anything but one metropolitan area. It’s disheartening for voters to watch the jurisdictional infighting and grasping at straws of power in order to maintain an obsolete status quo.

We don’t need two city governments and a county government. We need a metropolitan government and a county government (don’t forget Washoe County includes places as far away as Incline Village and Gerlach). Let’s combine the Reno-Sparks jurisdictions and give them one name that reflects the truth of our region. How about Floodplainville or Reno-Sparks or Truckee Valley?

In the meantime, we’re going to vote yes on WC-3.

WC-4 Would you support the imposition of a property tax in the unincorporated area of Washoe County to cover the cost of the provision of municipal services in the unincorporated area if the Spheres of Influence of Reno and Sparks were moved back to their pre-May 9, 2002 locations.

This question will only appear on ballots in the unincorporated areas of Washoe County. It basically asks those voters if they would rather pay taxes to Washoe County and remain relatively undeveloped or pay taxes to the cities and become, well, cities.

We’re going to explain this May 9 thing, because it provides context to some of the Questions to follow. This information is included on your ballot, so we’ve abridged it. On May 9, 2002, the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Governing Board adopted a new comprehensive regional plan. The new regional plan provides an expanded sphere of influence for Reno and Sparks with a 20-year annexation deadline. Prior to May 9, Reno’s SOI contained 6,432 acres; now it’s 25,130 acres. Sparks went from 7,241 acres to 20,942 acres.

Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how Questions WC-4, WC-5 or WC-6 will be affected by the recent steel-cage settlement District Judge James Hardesty negotiated among the jurisdictions. The cities’ spheres of influence changed as a result of that negotiation. However, since WC-4 is just an advisory question, these changes don’t technically alter the fundamental question: Is this how you want to fix the fiscal inequity?

We’d vote yes on WC-4, if we had the chance.

WC-5 Shall Washoe County be authorized to form an unincorporated town within the boundaries of the unincorporated area of Washoe County for the purpose of providing funding support for the following governmental services: Sheriff patrol and detectives, land use planning and zoning, business licensing, community parks and recreational services, engineering and road maintenance, misdemeanant prosecution, animal control, and fire suppression? A “yes” vote carries with it the assent to be taxed for such services. Imposition of any such tax would require the approvals of the Board of County Commissioners and the Nevada Department of Taxation.

Is background necessary on this? Reno has been annexation crazy for about the last six years. Sparks saw a good thing and started the same tact. The idea is if a city sprawls, a bad thing, it can increase its tax base by annexing the areas it has sprawled onto.

This question is Washoe County’s self-defense policy. If an unincorporated city is formed, that makes it more difficult for Reno and Sparks to annex more property. However, it is not a guarantee against annexation. The funniest thing about this political gamesmanship is that it’s a binding question. If residents in the unincorporated area vote in favor, the Washoe County Board of Commissioners will form an unincorporated city. The second funniest thing is that it adds another layer of government and taxation to unincorporated Washoe County. It’s a step away from intelligent consolidation, and we don’t like it.

We’d vote no on WC-5, if we had the chance.

WC-6 Would you support moving the Spheres of Influence of Reno and Sparks back to their pre-May 9, 2002 locations, if a property tax were imposed in the unincorporated area of Washoe County to cover the cost of the provision of municipal services in the unincorporated area.

This question will only be voted on by in-city voters. It’s another approach for Washoe County to decrease the Reno and Sparks spheres of influence, and, all things remaining equal, it will give in-city voters better services for the same amount of taxes.

Can there be any doubt that people should support funding for the arts, parks and recreation in Reno? R-1 will provide $40 million. <p>

Photo By David Robert

We’re going to vote yes on WC-6.

WC-7 Shall the Board of Commissioners of Washoe County adopt a resolution urging the City Council of the City of Reno to continue implementation of the railroad (RETRAC) trench project?

This is retarded. It does nothing but aggravate the anger caused by the city of Reno’s circumvention of the political process—namely, taking the successful citizen’s initiative to court. Yes, members of the Reno City Council and staff subverted the public’s right to vote. This is not going to change that.

It’s important to remember that the Washoe County Commission voted in the eighth-cent sales tax increase in 1998 that enabled ReTRAC. The Commission has since made no effort to rescind the tax or to prevent another such lame-duck tax increase.

Even the phrasing of this question is disingenuous. If the no’s win, the Commissioners aren’t required to adopt a resolution urging the City Council not to proceed with the train trench. If the yes’s win, they send a letter. This is a poor substitute for a binding vote of the people.

Despite paying the sales tax, citizens of Washoe County outside of Reno will not get a binding vote on the trench. The best they can hope to do, if they want to kill the trench, is encourage their Reno friends to vote for anti-trench candidates; even then, nothing is certain.

While we believe it is an exercise in futility, most of us are going to vote no on WC-7.

WC-8 Shall the Washoe County District Board of Health be able to adopt regulations that are stronger than state law in order to protect people from secondhand smoke? This does not include businesses that exclude persons under the age of 21.

This is another advisory question, although how it got on the ballot without a vote of the Washoe County Commission is a mystery to us and a bad precedent. The language is self-explanatory; Nevada has a law that says, “No jurisdiction will make laws restricting smoking that are more stringent than state laws,” and the health department would like local control. Basically, if people vote yes on this one, our officials can go to the Legislature and ask that the law be modified.

We believe the counties already have control over smoking regulations—through enforcement of current laws. However, drive around any high school in the morning, at lunchtime or after school, and you’ll see the effects of laws forbidding tobacco sales to minors. Why give more control to the county, when it doesn’t use the control it has?

The background agenda of this question leaves us with more questions than answers, and while we favor tougher state laws on smoking (see WC-9), WC-8 will destroy the uniformity and enforceability of existing laws.

We’re going to vote no on WC-8.

WC-9 Shall secondhand smoke be completely prohibited by state law in places frequented by children such as schools, grocery stores, restaurants and government buildings?

This is another advisory question, basically the same reasoning as Question 8—it asks legislators to change state law. Again, it probably shouldn’t be on the ballot, because it isn’t selling bonds or raising taxes, and it wasn’t placed there by citizen referendum or elected officials. It was put there by a regulatory agency. It’s easy to think of county departments that might have wish-lists of laws. The idea of 150- or 200-page ballots filled with advisory questions suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Our state has been looking at this issue from the wrong direction for too long. Rather than listing where smoking is illegal, we should enumerate places where smoking is permissible. Maybe we could make it illegal for people under 18 to possess tobacco or to attempt to buy tobacco. How about an outright ban on smoking in Nevada? Not likely to happen, simply too much money is generated by the addiction to ever do the moral thing.

We are going to vote yes on WC-9.


R-1 Shall the City of Reno be authorized to issue up to $40,000,000 of general obligation bonds for the purpose of acquiring, constructing, equipping and improving arts, aquatics and recreation projects including real property, structures, fixtures, furnishings and equipment thereof? The Bonds are expected to require a property tax levy for 30 years. The Bonds are estimated to result in an increase in the property taxes that the owner of a new $100,000 home will pay which will average $17.50 per year.

What have our Reno elected officials been doing with our tax money? The arts, parks and recreation are not luxuries. Why should citizens pay, once again, for projects designed to bolster tourism?

The city of Reno does not own the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, the Lear Theater or the Nevada Museum of Art. Why shouldn’t room taxes or tax-deductible donations pay for these improvements? Forty million dollars is a lot to ask citizens to pay. We already pay for this stuff—only to see the money appropriated to special-interest projects.

This is blackmail: if citizens don’t vote in favor of this project, we can expect Reno’s elected officials to say, “Citizens voted not to support this, therefore, we’re not obligated to find another way to pay for it.” That’s worse than it is now. Since the average home in Reno costs $185,000, we have to decide whether it’s worthwhile to pay $32.38 per year for 30 years to compensate for incompetent politicians and improve the city.

We’re going to vote yes on R-1.

R-2 Shall the separate governments of Washoe County and the City of Reno be consolidated provided consolidation reduces taxes and/or improves services as an alternative to the current system of separate governments for Washoe County and the City of Reno with the current fiscal inequity?

Here’s another question that shows the acrimonious relationship between Reno and Washoe County. Look across the United States. Most counties have dominant cities within their borders. Often these cities are called, “county seats.” Usually, the city and county governments can coexist.

R-2 is another question in which Reno voters are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. No, Washoe County and the city of Reno should not be made into one government. Yes, services should be consolidated to eliminate redundancy of services and lower taxes when possible. Fix the fiscal inequity by voting yes on WC-6.

We’re going to vote no on R-2.

R-3 Shall the City of Reno be removed from Washoe County and a County of Reno be created provided it reduces taxes and/or improves services as an alternative to the current system of separate governments for Washoe County and the City of Reno with the current fiscal inequity?

Another painful example of how myopic, stupid and malicious members of the Reno City Council can be. The ironic thing is that if this did pass and Reno became its own county, like Carson City is its own county, its borders would be set forever, the sphere-of-influence baloney would go away, and growth would soon be a thing of the past for the city of Reno. Counties, after all, don’t annex property from other counties. We believe this question came about as a direct reply to WC-7, the train-trench question, and we are going to give it the same consideration.

We’re going to vote no on R-3.