2015 Nevada Legislature: North, South prepare to battle
Special to the Bonanza
In 1866, New York Judge Gideon John Tucker wrote in a case decision: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
The phrase was “borrowed” by Mark Twain in reference to the Nevada Legislature, and after 150 years it is no less appropriate a sentiment.
It is also a reminder that with the New Year, Nevada’s solons will once again convene in Carson City to see if they can continue to uphold this dubious reputation.
They will have a lot of changes to make. Most importantly, they will have to deal with the shift in power resulting from Republicans gaining majorities in both houses, retaining the state house and dominating all state constitutional offices.
What can we look forward to?
It’s likely that the main story will be a continuation of the ongoing battle for state resources between the North and South.
As noted in a recent Las Vegas Sun article headlined: “Is Northern Nevada cheating Southern Nevada,” the South has 70 percent of the Silver State’s population, yet the North gets more than its share of both state and federal funds.
UNLV political science professor David Damore has researched this subject and attributes the dichotomy to history and political clout.
Until 1950, the North dominated the Silver State both economically and in population. The Las Vegas boom brought people to the South but little reallocation of state funds despite Clark County’s need for infrastructure to serve this growing population.
The North’s single most influential lawmaker was State Senator Bill Raggio (R-Reno), who served from 1972 to 2011. For much of that time, he was Senate majority leader and chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
He exercised political power unmatched by any legislator from Clark County, and any bill that would have diverted resources to the South simply did not make it through his committee.
Regrettably, Bill has gone to that big senate in the sky, but has clout shifted to the South? We’ll take a look.
Southern Nevada leaders have identified a number of important areas in which Clark County does not get its “fair share” of resources.
In higher education, UNLV has 33 percent more students than UNR and although each receives equal funding per weighted student credit hour, UNLV facilities are proportionately smaller than UNR’s.
Moreover, UNR has a medical school while UNLV does not despite the South’s need for trained doctors.
Another disparity is roads. Las Vegas streets and freeways always seem in gridlock, whereas Nevada’s most expensive highway project was the construction of a six-lane highway between Reno and Carson City (note: Senator Raggio’s route from his district to his Capitol office).
Meanwhile, a planned interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix languishes for lack of funds.
What are the legislative prospects for 2015? Governor Sandoval has hinted at major tax reform legislation, which he will detail in his state of the state speech in mid-January.
Jiggling with tax formulae provides opportunities to redirect revenues. Will a legislature dominated by Clark County legislators redirect funding to the South?
A fight is almost guaranteed but the odds are with the North. Sen. Raggio’s powerful committee chair is now occupied by Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno), who also represents Incline/Crystal Bay.
The governor hails from Reno and can wield a veto pen to kill legislation harmful to the North.
The assembly organization is unclear. Initially Republicans chose Assemblyman Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) as speaker, but some earlier controversial political columns he wrote triggered his resignation.
Assemblyman John Hambrick (R-Las Vegas) succeeded him, but has appointed, fired and reappointed a Taxation Committee chair. We’ll have to tune in later.
In any case, at this point in time it does not appear that the South has the clout to invade the North’s piggy bank.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.