Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.
Madison and Henderson
“If men were angels,” wrote James Madison in Federalist No. 51, “no government would be necessary.”
If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
One such precaution, of course, is our system of checks and balances — the separation of various governmental powers within government itself. Unfortunately, that framework has begun to break down in recent times — nationally and certainly here in Nevada as well.
The people remain the ultimate check on government — or, as Madison put it, “the primary control on the government.” And if our elected representatives fail to govern responsibly, we the people have the ability to vote them out of office. Increasingly, however, it has become crucial for citizens to check government with more frequency than every two, four or six years.
NPRI has been proud to be at the forefront of many efforts to check government, and our TransparentNevada website, which contains government employee salaries and other public information, is a very helpful tool in many of those efforts.
This includes a victory for taxpayers that NPRI won recently in Henderson.
Over one year ago, city officials in Henderson began to lay the groundwork for proposing a property tax increase. They convened a special budget committee to make recommendations but instructed committee members not to look at employee compensation, which is 80 percent of the city’s budget. Unsurprisingly, the budget committee then recommended a significant property tax increase to fill a supposed $17 million annual shortfall.
In April 2014, city officials announced a series of community meetings to discuss the findings and gauge the public’s reaction to their property tax increase trial balloon.
Led by NPRI’s Victor Joecks, our team used TransparentNevada information to raise numerous questions about what Henderson officials were telling the public. Through public testimony, media interviews and handing out fliers at community meetings, we showed that Henderson’s officials are some of the highest paid in the Vegas Valley. We also showed that Henderson’s budget “cuts” were really just reductions in desired expenditures.
Henderson residents were furious to learn that the reason city officials wanted to increase their taxes was that NRS 288 had forced them to give raises to city employees making over $200,000 a year in total compensation, while the median household income in Henderson had fallen more than 9 percent in five years.
And the raises continued. Over the summer and fall, Henderson announced it was giving raises and bonuses to its various employee groups.
Rather than risk political suicide at the polls next year, earlier this month the city council unanimously voted to table talk of a tax increase until at least 2016.
No, men aren’t angels, and that certainly includes those in the Henderson city government. But when we as citizens take seriously our duty to serve as that ultimate check on governmental power, we accomplish a lot in ensuring that those who are elected to govern, govern responsibly.
And don’t worry, Henderson residents. NPRI will be there in 2016, too.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.
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