By Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence
Nevada Republican voters spoke loudly last night. Again.
They spoke loudly in November 2014, voting down a proposed gross receipts tax (GRT) 4-to-1 and sweeping Republicans into control of Nevada’s executive and legislative branches for the first time in generations.
That was a mandate to hold the line on taxes, reform collective bargaining, stop the bleeding in the Public Employees Retirement System, improve schools through choice and other reforms, and especially to oppose the kind of tax 79 percent of voters rejected.
Others saw things differently.
Gov. Brian Sandoval and his allies interpreted voters’ overwhelming rejection of a GRT to mean they really wanted the same tax with just a few minor tweaks. Sandoval sent two versions of the tax to the legislature the following spring and devoted great energy to its eventual passage.
By law, he had to convince two-thirds of the members in each house to vote for a new tax. A GRT has long been a goal of Nevada Democrats, Republicans-in-name-only (RINOs), and large gaming companies. Democrats and RINOs want to spend and gaming wants to shunt the burden of that spending onto retailers, auto mechanics and other small- to medium-sized Nevada businesses – anyone but them. So Sandoval’s task came down to getting Republicans to support the tax.
Republican resistance was minimal in the Senate, which passed both GRT versions with only a few dissenting votes. The only resistance of consequence was in the Assembly where a cadre of Republicans had worked with us to develop a plan to increase spending on public schools without raising taxes.
Our appeal to principle and the broad public interest, though, was not as alluring for some legislators as the governor’s promises of future campaign support. So the swing votes went to Sandoval, and the commerce tax version of the GRT passed.
Along the way, Sandoval and legislative leaders killed the most substantive proposals for reforming collective bargaining and pensions, even though several of those proposals came from some of their tax-hiking Republican allies.
All this was a complete betrayal of the voters’ trust. Last night the voters defeated some of the people who had betrayed them and the public interest.
Sandoval made good on his promises to campaign for Republicans who supported the tax. In spades. Big gaming, which is mostly exempt from GRTs, showered campaign contributions on tax-hiking Republicans — well into six figures in some cases.
Meantime, with the help of the Nevada Supreme Court, the governor’s allies got our effort to put the commerce tax on the ballot for a referendum thrown out on false grounds.
Sandoval’s practiced public persona of (false) moderation has kept him popular in some circles despite his extreme statist policies. But he couldn’t transfer that Teflon to many legislators he supported.
Although voters won’t be able to vote directly on the commerce tax this fall, they just held their own referendum by voting down many Sandoval-backed legislative candidates, including some non-incumbents, and turning down key tax architect Michael Roberson for Congress.
This sends a strong message about the priorities of Republican voters and once again delivers a mandate not only to accomplish the key policy objectives Sandoval and company whiffed on last time, but also to repeal the pernicious commerce tax.
Some political insiders claim that candidates who actually govern as conservatives cannot win a general election, despite the obvious national and Nevada retreat from the bipartisan corrupt establishments. But three of the 14 Assembly Republican tax-hikers refused to face voters by running for re-election, three more were defeated this week, and a Libertarian and a Democrat may take out two others in November.
So in the next legislature, roughly half the Assembly Republicans who joined the governor in betraying the voters won’t be back. That’s quite an object lesson. We are especially gratified that Al Kramer, Jim Marchant and Victoria Seaman this week defeated, respectively, Philip O’Neill, Glenn Trowbridge and Erv Nelson, three of the most treacherous turncoats.
We see 2014 as the beginning of a long-term shift away from the bipartisan, corrupt crony-infested establishment. But we caution the Republicans headed toward November victory: Do what you promised. Voters are showing increasingly they won’t put up with being fooled again.
Ron Knecht is Nevada State Controller. Geoffrey Lawrence is Assistant Controller.