The worry over “cronyism” in politics is a bipartisan concern — and, unfortunately, Nevada has a long history of political favoritism. However, billionaires asking lawmakers for special treatment isn’t the only kind of cronyism that should worry Nevadans. This year, government insiders and tax-funded lobbyists are playing the favoritism game better than anyone. And their influence over the 2019 session has been profound. Through the political activity of taxpayer-funded public-sector unions, and by using lawmakers’ natural deference to big government, government-insiders across Nevada were clear power-players throughout the session.
Clark County School District (CCSD) hired lobbyists to push for more funding. The Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) used connections with lawmakers to push forward a secrecy bill that would limit the public’s right to know how tax dollars are being spent. Unions pushed hard to expand the number of dues-paying members by extending collective bargaining abilities to state workers. But, it’s clear the special interest organization with the most muscle in 2019 was government itself.
Making matters worse, because legislative leadership saw these government-insiders as natural electoral allies, most of the policy crafting has taken place behind closed doors, where taxpayers and political opponents had no opportunity to voice an opinion or weigh in on the process.
The bill to fund Nevada’s public education system — arguably the most crucial appropriations bill — was perhaps the most obvious example of this behind-the-scenes policymaking. That crucial appropriations bill was introduced a mere three weeks before the end of session, leaving lawmakers with virtually no opportunity to review or debate its merits. Some lawmakers even remarked that the effectively blind vote they would be forced to cast on the massive spending proposal would be reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s infamous suggestion to “pass the bill to find out what is in it.” And they were right.
Unfortunately, that education spending bill wasn’t the only thing that relied on closed-door meetings with tax-funded special interests to actually get drafted. To be fair, such behaviors are common practice among both political parties. It’s merely the way business is conducted in government.
It’s the sausage being made, so to speak.
The truth is, a politician’s job is to get elected. Once in office, they aren’t always the ones actually writing the bills they’re voting on. Lobbyists, special interests, mid-level legislative bureaucrats and career political operatives are the ones who write the laws, read the laws and give guidance to lawmakers about which ones to support — and they do so in the background, with no real public oversight or accountability.
Politicians merely vote the way their trusted partners and special interests urge them to. And, all too often, those trusted partners are pushing their own interests rather than those of taxpayers or citizens.
When special interests are corporate cronies — such as gaming executives or lobbyists for big business — voters seem to notice, outrage ensues, and everyone opines on how “rigged” the system is. When those partners, however, are part of government itself — such as they were this year — the outrage is inexplicably missing.
In 2019, tax-funded government sector unions dominated the political direction of the legislature to the detriment of students, families and even local school districts. Prevailing wage, which directly increases the cost of public construction projects for districts, was pushed through as a legislative priority despite the fact that local schools were bemoaning the lack of adequate funding for other educational priorities.
Even Governor Sisolak’s “no new taxes” promise was undermined by the politically powerful union lobbying effort, as lawmakers considered a multitude of ways to allow local governments the ability to raise taxes on their own for the benefit of increasing revenue for government pet projects.
Indeed, on almost every issue, it seemed that somewhere in the background there was a government agency or a government lobbyist whispering in the ears of lawmakers — using our tax dollars to persuade lawmakers to raise taxes even further, decrease transparency or tighten regulations on the private sector. Corporate cronies still have their influence in the legislature, to be sure.
However, the far greater special interest in 2019 was government itself, and that should be a far bigger worry to Nevada taxpayers. After all, unlike the lobbyists representing private businesses, you’re paying for government’s lobbying efforts whether you want to or not.