Jim Clark: Sandoval and Guinn – is it déjà vu for NEevada?
February 11, 2015
In 1998, affable Kenny Guinn, reeking of success for his contributions to K-12 and higher education as well as private enterprise in Clark County, filed to run in the Republican Primary Election for governor of Nevada.
He had the backing of Nevada gaming as well as a long list of influential friends. He had a private agenda he didn't discuss but promised a streamlined Nevada government and a business friendly state climate.
Guinn easily bested his Primary opponent and went on to swamp Democrat Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones in the General Election.
His first term as governor was unremarkable. There was a crisis in Nevada's worker compensation insurance system and problems at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“It’s déjà vu all over again.”Yogi Berra
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Guinn resolved both issues without even breathing hard. He was handily reelected to a second term and it was then that he trotted out his private agenda … a gross receipts tax on Nevada businesses.
Why would a Republican governor want to not only increase taxes, but impose an unfair system that could tax businesses that were losing money?
Because the Nevada gaming industry pays a gross receipts tax on winnings, and they wanted other Nevada businesses to feel their pain.
The legislative session that year was a preview of Hell. Lawmakers of both parties who had been friends for years refused to speak to each other.
Guinn persuaded then-Sen. Bill Raggio to get the tax approved in the senate, but a majority of assembly Republicans (dubbed "the mean fifteen") refused to pass the measure, and the legislature adjourned without final action.
Guinn called a special session, but still no compromise was reached. Finally, Guinn, supported by Republican Attorney General Brian Sandoval, sued the Nevada Assembly in federal court.
The action was undecisive. Finally one of the "mean fifteen" relented to a tax increase, making a 2/3 majority in both houses, but the gross receipts tax was jettisoned.
Here's where the déjà vu comes in. Then-Attorney General Brian Sandoval is now governor. During his first term, he persuaded a Democrat legislature to support many of his education reforms, simultaneously attracting many new businesses and jobs to Nevada.
He capped his efforts with a triumphant victory over four other states to land the Tesla Gigafactory for Nevada.
Sandoval won reelection by a crushing majority, also flipping the legislature from Democrat to Republican. He then unveiled his hidden agenda: Nevada's largest tax increase ever to pay for the rest of his education reform plan.
Not only that, but a new business license tax that looks uncomfortably close to Guinn's business gross receipts tax.
The déjà vu continues. As the current legislative session unfolds opposition to the tax proposal is again centered in the assembly.
Lawmakers who have been good friends are again not talking with each other. Despite Nevada's relatively small population Gov. Sandoval and his tax proposal have drawn national attention; he was excoriated in editorials appearing in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Daily Business Journal, among others.
Will the Kenny Guinn déjà vu continue? Will there be a special session of the legislature because the tax issue continues unresolved?
Will the governor have to engage Attorney General Laxalt to sue the legislature? Does Sandoval have a secret compromise position to provide funding for the most important of his education reform plans?
Are these measures so pro-education choice as to offend the Nevada Teacher Union and erode Democratic support?
The remainder of this winter and the coming spring promise to be a very interesting period in Nevada history.
Maybe next summer, too, if the legislature spills over into a special session.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Nevada and Washoe County GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.