What was Schwartz thinking?
Nothing brings people together better than fighting a common enemy.
That was just one of the many dynamics newly elected state Treasurer Dan Schwartz failed to understand when he accepted the invitation to present his version of the state budget to the Senate Finance Committee, an obvious trap that wasn’t even all that clever.
Too bad his fair-weather friend, Nevada’s new state Controller Ron Knecht, didn’t warn him—or, better yet, show up to help.
As Democrats and Republicans pummeled his truly ridiculous three-page outline for Nevada’s biennial budget, Schwartz stubbornly clung to his plan despite having to admit he “should have checked” before including $540 million in potential revenue from a new $5 per passenger fee on airline tickets the state has no authority to impose. His replacement revenue source was a 25 cent tax on tourist meals, but he seemed clueless about how to separate the tourists from the locals who also eat out or the infrastructure needed to collect such a levy.
He should have admitted from the start his “budget” was really just a publicity stunt, never intended to be a serious proposal. Why pretend otherwise?
The senators seemed to thoroughly enjoy their moments of political theater in front of crowded hearing rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas. But it was the Assembly members in Ways and Means who did the real work of revealing what a hypocrite Schwartz is as they combed through the treasurer’s office budget.
His requests for new staff, higher salaries, and remodeling of his office were only dwarfed by the whopping 372 percent increase in his travel budget. It left one wondering how the previous treasurer, Kate Marshall, managed to do such a stellar job with so much less. Or if the current treasurer has any idea of the sub-optimal work conditions more lowly state workers have endured for years.
Schwartz was also criticized in the Assembly for incomplete budget detail, and he repeatedly promised to submit the missing information. Soon. At the conclusion of the meeting, he was told by the committee chair, “It sounds like you have a lot of homework to do.”
What was he thinking?
As the treasurer descended one floor to present his budget to the Senate Finance Committee, roomfuls of angry parents, teachers and advocates were waiting, eager to take him to task for suggesting that Gov. Sandoval’s new initiatives on anti-bullying and autism be put on hold. He insisted he wasn’t specifying which programs should be eliminated or stalled, just that the Legislature should prioritize spending as any household would.
But the more he talked, the meaner he sounded. He failed to appreciate the years many parents have spent begging for budget crumbs from the Legislature. He didn’t anticipate the fury of a father who has lost his daughter to a bully or a mother whose child’s future depends on the autism services she gets today.
Amid the outrage and emotion over the potential cuts, too little attention was paid to the most offensive item in the Schwartz/Knecht plan, their proposed $2 billion giveaway to private businesses that want to “relocate and expand in Nevada.” Instead of strengthening education and human services in a state that has long ignored both, they want to divert $2 billion of tax revenue into the pockets of the corporate sector.
Maybe it was too absurd to contemplate.
In his poorly executed bid to be relevant in the biggest debate of the 2015 legislative session, Schwartz ironically helped build support for what he really detests, the governor’s plan to increase revenue through graduated levels of the existing business license fee.
Instead, the treasurer managed to do the unthinkable, unite Republicans and Democrats in support of an unrivaled tax and spend budget. Job well done. =