Commentary: Things lawmakers should ‘undo’ in 77th session

2013-01-16T06:00:00Z Commentary: Things lawmakers should ‘undo’ in 77th sessionBy THOMAS MITCHELL Elko Daily Free Press
January 16, 2013 6:00 am  • 

We are rapidly approaching the kickoff of the 2013 biennial session of the Nevada Legislature, the 77th such regular session since statehood in 1864.

So, for 120 days or so, starting in February, “No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe,” as Mark Twain put it.

Since they are called lawmakers, by gosh they’re going to make laws. There’s been nearly 900 bill draft requests submitted so far, but only five include the word “repeal.” With the Nevada Revised Statutes already 720 chapters long, you’d think there would be room to unmake a few laws every couple of years. But seldom is that the case.

As our 63 lawmakers settle in for a chilly winter sojourn in Carson City, I highly recommend they cozy up next to a good fire with a copy of the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s “Solutions 2013: A Sourcebook for Nevada Policymakers.” It is 88 pages of facts and figures and recommendations put together by NPRI’s Deputy Policy Director Geoffrey Lawrence.

Though it is packed with recommendations for things our state should do, I’m partial to those laws on the books that should be undone.

One of the most urgent priorities — and one the Legislature has managed to completely ignore for decades — is the public employee pension system. Though the Public Employees’ Retirement System reports it has an unfunded liability of $10 billion, a study conducted for NPRI by Andrew Biggs puts the figure closer to $41 billion when a fair-market valuation is used.

“PERS’s unfunded liability is slightly larger than all spending from the state general fund between FY 1986 and FY 2010 — a period of 25 years,” Lawrence writes.

This is because Nevada employees have a defined-benefit system in which they are guaranteed a certain percent of their highest salary as a pension, while virtually all private sector employees are now under a defined-contribution system, like 401(k)s. The law needs to change.

Going hand in glove with that is a recommendation to repeal or seriously reform NRS 288, the collective bargaining statute, which has resulted in local-government employees in Nevada making 31 percent higher wages than the national average. If those wages were reduced to the national average, taxpayers could save more than $1 billion a year.

Next on my hit parade is the 1937 state prevailing wage law, which in practice requires all state and local government construction contractors to pay their employees union scale wages. This has resulted in public works projects costing a half a billon dollars a year more than necessary because wages are 45 percent higher than those on private sector projects. Ten states have repealed their prevailing wage laws since 1978. Why not Nevada?

Then there is the regulatory red tape the state uses to tie private sector workers in knots. According to the Institute for Justice, Nevada has the third most burdensome occupational licensing law in the nation. Nevada demands a license for 55 of 102 occupations studied. The average out-of-pocket fees are $505, plus 601 days of education and/or experience and the passage of two exams.

NPRI recommends, “Lawmakers should immediately repeal all occupational licensing requirements for professions that do not pose a substantial risk of physical harm to consumers when the occupation is not performed by a trained professional.” Think of all the money the consumers could save.

Then there is my highest priority, one that hits taxpayers and consumers coming and going for absolutely no discernable reason — the renewable portfolio standard, which by 2025 will demand that all electric utility companies produce or purchase a minimum of 25 percent of their electricity from renewable-energy facilities, such as wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. The cost of power from those sources averages three to four times as much as electricity produced by natural gas-fired turbines.

As NPRI and many others have pointed out, the RPS is a regressive tax on the poor who must pay higher electric bills.

Perhaps more importantly, the higher energy costs affect every production operation, every retail store, every restaurant, every casino, and they pass along the cost to consumers. “This damages state competitiveness and is a stumbling block to corporate investment and job growth,” NPRI argues.

Besides, it effectively redistributes money to cronies of politicians who wield the clout to land such renewable energy contracts.

You may download “Solutions 2013” at http://npri.org.

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Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may share your views with him by emailing thomasmnv@yahoo.com. Read additional musings on his blog at http://4thst8.wordpress.com.

Copyright 2015 Elko Daily Free Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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