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How Low Will They Go to Raise Taxes?

Threats, intimidation, secrecy, dead of night legislating, and changing the rules in the middle of the game. These are the lengths Democrats have sunk to in their effort to pass a billion tax hike.

It’s not that our government is broke, it’s that our government is broken.

It all actually started during the campaigns last year. Democrats were intensely focused on winning two state Senate seats which would give them a 12-9 majority this legislative session and only two GOP votes shy of the super-majority they would need to pass massive tax hikes.

Unfortunately for them, the two Democrat candidates turned out to be not exactly the sharpest public policy knives in the drawer. So a concerted effort was made to hide the pair from the public. No one-on-one debates with their GOP opponents and rare interviews with the media.

The “hide-the-candidate” strategy worked. The two clueless, less-qualified candidates won. Apparently thrilled with their success, the Democrats then deployed a similar “hide-the-tax-plan” strategy during this legislative session.

For the last four months, legislators have hidden the details of three-quarters of their billion dollar tax hike plan from the public (a $250 million room tax hike was already approved in February). The proposals were hatched in secret, private meetings or a “core group” of “elite” legislators.

Why were the discussions and debates about the budget and revenue plans not held in public? Because legislators exempted themselves from the state’s Open Meeting law. How convenient, huh?

Finally, on Wednesday of this week, the details of the billion dollar tax hike became known to the public. But before public opposition can mobilize and take derail the scheme, Democrats are rushing to pass it before the weekend.

Nevertheless, some of us have attempted to stop this billion dollar tax hike which will harm Nevada’s families and cost additional Nevadans their jobs. Personally, I used my email list to drum up opposition and accurately used a quote from Wynn Resorts chairman Steve Wynn who said in an interview that any attempt to raise any taxes in the middle of this recession was “purely psychotic.”

That resulted in a lawsuit threat by the resort’s corporate attorney. “Be assured that we will take all action available to us to cease and redress your unauthorized and flagrantly false representations of Mr. Wynn’s position,” wrote Kim Sinatra in an email to me Monday night.

Now, a lawsuit threat from one of the state’s most powerful men is something to be taken very seriously. So just to be sure, I went back and reviewed the interview. Sure enough, the quote was accurate and in proper context. No grounds for a lawsuit. Ms. Sinatra’s threat was simply an effort to intimidate and silence an opponent of the billion dollar tax hike which Mr. Wynn now supports.

And it’s only gotten uglier since.

On Wednesday, Robert Uithoven – a pro-business lobbyist who is opposed to the job-killing proposed increases in the payroll tax and business license fees – pointed out that members of Sen. Raggio’s law firm had lobbied on the tax bill and, therefore, Sen. Raggio should abstain from voting on it.

Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes agreed, writing in an opinion to Sen. Raggio that “it is reasonable to conclude that lobbying by a member of your firm on the tax legislation would affect the independence of judgment of a reasonable person in your situation concerning the legislation.”

This was critical development because Sen. Raggio is one of the “core group” members who has been working on crafting the details of the billion dollar tax hike in secret and assumed to be one of the two GOP votes needed to pass it.

Shortly after Sen. Raggio’s conflict became public, the veteran Reno Republican announced in a long, rambling speech on the floor of the Senate that while he supported the billion dollar tax hike he has been helping to craft, he would nevertheless be recusing himself from voting on it. He also blistered Mr. Uithoven for even raising the issue of his conflicts, reminding the gallery that he, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were the ones who established the Ethics Commission in Nevada in the first place.

Just kidding. It was actually Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain who helped him create the commission.

Anyway, shortly after Sen. Raggio’s recusal announcement, Mr. Uithoven received a call from Senate Republican caucus director Joe Brezny, who proceeded to give Mr. Uithoven the “you’ll never work in this town again” speech. According to Mr. Uithoven, not only did Brezny convey a threat that every one of the Senate’s Republicans were going to refuse to work with him, but that they would try to hurt his ability to get new clients in the future.

And then Brezny began calling some of Mr. Uithoven’s existing clients, advising them to drop him immediately.

One of two things should happen today: Joe Brezny should be fired or Joe Brezny should be sued. Preferably both. This kind of bush-league, Chicago-style threat-and-intimidation politics has no place in Carson City.

I’m, frankly, shocked that those nine Senate Republicans would stoop this low. Unless Joe Brezny was lying and they didn’t even of his threat to Mr. Uithoven. If so, all the more reason for Mr. Brezny to relieved of his duties today.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, another “core group” Republican who has been helping to craft the billion dollar tax hike in those secret meetings, Sen. Warren Hardy, announced that because a member of the board of directors for the association he works for in the off season had also testified on the tax bill, he, too, would be recusing himself from voting on it.

Potential tax-hiking Republicans were dropping like flies. Which led Democrat Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford to take some very desperate and very outrageous actions later in the evening.

In what has been approrpriately nicknamed the “Absolution Resolution,” Sen. Horsford introduced a late-night measure that, in essence, declared that members of the Legislature with conflicts of interest on the tax hike no longer had any conflicts of interest in voting for the tax hike.

“I am introducing a Senate resolution that would allow an exemption to Rule 23,” Senate Horsford declared, “which provides for legislative ethical guidelines, including those governing conflicts of interest. The proposed resolution creates an exception to the rule enabling legislators to vote on issues that globally impact all citizens of this State, such as those facing the legislature today. I believe all legislators should have the ability to execute their sworn constitutional duty to balance the budget of the state and represent the interests of Nevada’s citizens.”

No matter how conflicted they may be.

The ironic part is that Sen. Horsford may be the most conflicted legislator in the entire building and nevertheless introduced a resolution exempting legislators from conflicts of interest so they could vote on the tax hike bill that Sen. Horsford himself introduced this week. The organization Sen. Horsford works for, Nevada Partners, is loaded with lobbyists advocating for the tax hike.

Anyway, the “Absolution Resolution” passed in the Senate with only Sen. Mark Amodei voting in opposition. The resolution then moved over to the Assembly where Assemblyman Ed Goedhart objected to being given just 20 minutes notice of the measure and requested a recorded vote on it.

“I see this bill as advocating in favor of an individual being allowed to violate current ethical standards which prohibit voting on an issue if they are materially affected by a piece of legislation,” Goedhart said from the floor. “That being the case, I cannot support this attempt to weaken our ethics laws and violate the confidence of the people of Nevada. And I believe that we should have a roll call vote so that the people know how their representatives voted on this issue of public trust.”

That’s the LAST thing Speaker Buckley wanted, so she shoved it down everyone’s throat by an unrecorded voice vote.

The Democrat leadership is hell-bent on passing this tax hike and are perfectly willing to change the rules as they go along to do so….or just ignore them. Nothing, certainly not ethics or even the law, will stop them.

And then things got worse.

At 2:45 am Thursday morning, Sen. Horsford issued a “call of the house,” held senators in the chamber hostage, and directed the Sergeant at Arms to seek and take into custody three Republican senators – Mark Amodei, Maurice Washinton and Mike McGinness – who were missing. Sen. Hardy had to actually sneak out the back door of the Senate chamber just to use the restroom when the Sergeant at Arms wouldn’t let him out the front door.

Why in the world, with more than ten full days to go before the mandated end-of-session deadline, is the state Senate meeting in the dead of night and issuing arrest warrants for legislators who probably were just trying to catch some shut-eye? I mean, isn’t sleep deprivation considered “torture” by Democrats when used against terrorists? How is it any different when used against Republicans?

What kind of banana republic is Sen. Horsford running here?

If this keeps up, Nevada’s citizens are going to have to start wearing bags over their heads in shame when traveling out-of-state. And I suspect the worst is still yet to come.