Among bills currently still alive in the 77th legislative session are many forward-thinking, market-oriented policy solutions. But there are, as well, short-sighted government interventions into the marketplace.
Some of the bills would improve the lives of Nevada’s citizens while others would reduce living standards for the bulk of citizens while benefitting only select interest groups — or no one at all.
This report reviews the good, bad and ugly proposals among the bills that remain alive.
SB 74 (Sen. Tick Segerblom) would increase government transparency in Nevada by improving citizens’ access to public documents. The bill requires public records to be provided immediately upon request if they are readily available. Current law allows bureaucrats to slow records requests by requiring citizens to return five days after the request in order to receive the requested documents. SB 74 also prohibits public officers from charging excessive fees before they provide public documents. Currently, public officers are able to block many records requests by charging copy fees that exceed one dollar per page in addition to costly fees for staff time. Those fees would be capped under this proposal. SB 74 passed the Senate on a 14 to 7 vote.
AB 184 (Assemblyman Wes Duncan, et al.) would clarify the definition of “constructional defect” as a defect that presents “an unreasonable risk of injury to person or property” or as an instance of poor workmanship in violation of building codes that causes physical damage. It would also remove lawyers’ ability to automatically recover attorney’s fees whenever a construction-defect lawsuit is initiated. Automatic attorney’s fees have contributed to a litany of spurious class-action lawsuits that raise homebuilding costs and harmed homeowners who try to sell their home only to discover that, unknown to them, the home has been listed in a construction-defect lawsuit.
AB 190 (Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections) would require lobbyists to file expense reports detailing their lobbying activities during periods when the legislature is not in session. Currently, lobbyists must only report on expenditures made to wine and dine lawmakers during the four months every two years that the legislature is in session.
AB 46 (Washoe County School District) would increase the sales tax rate in Washoe County from its current rate of 7.725 percent to 7.975 percent. It would also raise Washoe County property taxes by 5 cents per $100 in assessed valuation. What’s more, significant constitutional questions surround AB 46. According to the bill’s language, it is not a legislative tax increase. Instead, the bill says the Washoe County Commission “shall enact an ordinance imposing” these taxes. NPRI does not believe that the legislature has the authority to bind the votes of local elected officials who have been elected to exercise their own judgment.
AB 496 would increase the sales tax in Clark County from 8.1 percent to 8.25 percent in order to provide additional funding to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Just months after a quarter-cent sales-tax hike was approved for Metro in 2005, department brass struck a new union contract that hiked pay 21.8 percent across the board. Thus, money would have already been available to hire “more cops” — the stated purpose of the tax hike — if it weren’t being used on extravagant pay raises. Now, Metro has dropped the “more cops” pretense and explicitly admits that any new money would mostly be used to maintain its current salary structure for existing employees.
SB 377 (Sen. Tick Segerblom, et al.) would more than double Nevada’s gasoline tax by 2023. It would rise by 2 cents annually, for the next 10 years, from its current level of 17.65 cents per gallon until reaching 37.65 cents in 2023.
SB 123 (Sen. Kelvin Atkinson) would increase Nevada’s energy costs by requiring NV Energy to retire at least 800 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired power plants ahead of those plants’ standard decommissioning schedule. NV Energy would then be able to recover its foregone equity in these plants through a rate increase and would be required to replace this generation capacity with 600 MW of new renewable facilities. In addition, NV Energy would need to construct at least 700 MW of new natural gas-fired power plants in order to serve as a backup resource for renewable facilities that generate electricity only sporadically. In other words, SB 123 would require electric ratepayers to pay the cost of building three different types of generation in order to do the job of one generation type that is already in operation. Early estimates indicate that the plan could increase utility rates by as much as 20 percent.
SB 252 (Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy) would also force up Nevadans’ electricity rates by increasing the renewable-energy mandates on NV Energy. Currently, the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires NV Energy to produce or procure at least 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. The utility can, however, use lower-cost efficiency measures to satisfy a quarter of this mandate. As amended, SB 252 would not allow the utility to use efficiency measures to satisfy any of the mandate and would thus require it to procure more costly renewable energy. The additional cost would be passed onto ratepayers. A recent econometric analysis by NPRI reveals that, even under current law, the RPS will raise electricity prices by 6 percent over the next 12 years and lead to the destruction of nearly 2,000 jobs.
Geoffrey Lawrence is deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.