IFC to hide behind unelected stakeholders

Scheme intended to shield legislators from accountability

By Geoffrey Lawrence
  • Thursday, October 1, 2009

At its October meeting, the Interim Finance Committee's "Subcommittee to Conduct a Review of Nevada's Revenue Structure" is planning to appoint a panel of 15 individuals to a newly created "Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group."

The NVSG's job, we are told, will be to develop a long-term strategic plan for the next five, 10 and 20 years, identifying the quality-of-life goals that "we, as Nevadans, would like to see [accomplished] in our state," says Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford.

The 15 individuals selected to the NVSG are to be chosen from each of the five broad areas of state spending: Commerce & Industry, Education, Health and Human Services, Public Safety and Infrastructure.

That these "stakeholders" would all be drawn explicitly from economic sectors that are the major consumers of tax dollars should immediately be of concern to taxpayers. After all, the charge to NVSG members will essentially be to draw up a shopping list they'd like to see the public fund over the next 20 years. It could mean an open-ended check draft written by special interests on average Nevadans' earnings at a time when the latter are already seeing their wealth and income decline.

At least this realization has not been completely lost on all Interim Finance Committee members.  Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio has questioned the potential makeup of the NVSG, saying, "The stakeholder group cannot be lopsided. It has to be balanced. It cannot be tilted in favor of those who receive taxes, rather than those who pay the taxes." 

An ensuing exchange between Senator Horsford and Assemblyman James Settlemeyer revealed that Horsford hopes to allay such concerns by allowing — within the Commerce & Industry category — consideration of individuals interested in promoting "economic development." It's unclear whether "economic development," to Horsford, refers to true market-driven economic growth or to mere corporate welfare handouts for politically favored firms. Regardless, this narrow inclusion of a few potential private-sector representatives does little to offset the imbalance between taxpayer and tax recipient that will exist on the NVSG.

Instead, the NVSG is likely to be a coalition of public employee unions and other rent-seeking special interests eager to craft a deal that makes all of them happy — at the taxpayers' expense, of course. Those who would be required to finance the grandiose schemes that result from these "stakeholder processes" are rarely considered relevant "stakeholders" themselves.

Odds are that the NVSG will be a group of 15 unelected political-class elitists happy to force their personal will on all Nevadans. If state history is any guide, the radical and sweeping agenda that is likely to come out of the NVSG will then be presented to the full body of the legislature as having achieved "broad consensus among the relevant stakeholders." Even beyond Nevada, this is a method often employed in legislatures across the country. It's a means of pushing through far-reaching schemes to increase the size of government, while at the same time largely insulating legislators from public accountability for those policies. After all, legislators will disingenuously claim, the policy proposals enjoyed broad consensus among the relevant "stakeholders."

It is shameful that leaders of the Nevada Legislature would hide behind a group of unelected flunkies appointed to develop policy on their behalf. The state constitution does not call for public policymaking to take place in a tax-consumer "stakeholder" process — it calls for a legislative process. Consulting with constituents who could potentially be affected by particular legislation is a giant step away from convening a group of special-interest representatives to develop the priorities themselves.

If elected representatives in Carson City are unwilling to perform their task as legislators and to be held accountable for their actions, they should never have run for office. By appointing unelected individuals to legislate on their behalf, they would undermine the most basic principle of democratic accountability.

Of course, this appears to be the point. Legislators are looking to push through an agenda they know will be unpopular. Hence, they are posturing — attempting to distance themselves, as far away from the stink as possible.

Geoffrey Lawrence is a fiscal policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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