EDITORIAL: A valuable constitutional safeguard - Delegates should heed

Las Vegas Review Journal


Las Vegas businessman Dan Burdish has formed Nevadans for Tax Restraint. Should the Legislature proceed to pass the billion-dollar package of taxes proposed by Gov. Kenny Guinn, Mr. Burdish threatens to exercise a right reserved to Nevadans by a 1904 constitutional amendment -- placing on the ballot a referendum to overrule the Legislature.

That's right: If Mr. Burdish -- a former executive director of Gov. Guinn's own state Republican Party -- can gather slightly more than 51,000 signatures, Nevada voters would have the power to throw the taxes out.

Of course, it's too early to know what will emerge from the Legislature. And even should some witches' brew of new extractions be passed, the appropriateness of a voters' veto can only be judged once that package is com- plete.

But none of that can explain the responses of certain state lawmakers to the mere threat of Mr. Burdish's proposal, which even Gov. Guinn acknowledges "is his prero- gative."

It's the legislators -- not their constituents -- who should make such decisions, according to Senate Taxation Chairman Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. "If people use the referendum, then our government would be stalled." (Holding spending to the current $3.8 billion per biennium -- plus 9 percent automatic growth -- is now defined as "stalled.")

To repeal the tax hikes by popular vote would "eviscerate programs in our state by saying, `No new taxes,' " adds Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson.

"It is kind of disheartening," chimes in Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-North Las Vegas, who wonders why we bother having a Legislature if the people can simply go out and repeal their actions. "We are elected by the people to make decisions. Some are good and some are bad. But if someone is going to circumvent what we do, that is a bad precedent."

But not nearly as bad a precedent, surely (when it comes to the prerogatives of crowned rulers), as that dangerous firebrand Thomas Jefferson daring to claim that "Governments ... derive their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Nevada voters have never exercised their cumbersome "veto referendum" power to second-guess the Legislature on minor housekeeping matters, and are unlikely to start doing so. But the referendum is indeed a wise and proper safeguard against a legislative process where lawmakers increasingly spend their time bowing to the blandishments of highly paid, high-pressure lobbyists, willing and able to spend millions to ensure their ever-increasing flow of sustenance through the state's fiscal veins.

Compared to that "full-court press," how many everyday taxpayers can afford to travel to Carson City and make their views heard?

Yet the legislators are supposed to represent those absent constituents, not the bureaucrats ... right?


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