Two measures on the ballot would provide for constitutional change. Ballot Questions 3 and 4 have not, however, received much attention, and certainly there has been little debate on their provisions. Both of these measures face first- and second-round voting, this year and in 2018.
This measure is so complex that the Guinn Center in Las Vegas, which has been producing briefing papers this year on ballot measures, threw up its hands and said it would not do a paper on Q3. “This is actually one of the ballot initiatives that we didn’t do an extensive fact sheet on—reviewing in detail arguments for and against, because as you probably know if you’ve looked at this issue, it’s very complicated,” Center researcher Megan Rauch told a gathering in Elko County, according to the Elko Free Press. It must be nice to be able to opt out that way, but that leaves voters nowhere. They must still face casting an informed vote.
Q3 would require the Nevada Legislature to create a competitive retail market in electricity generation and supply. That sounds all to the good, but there are problems surrounding it. For one thing, it is a constitutional amendment written by a special interest lobby in a very complex fashion. Constitutions are generally broad statements of policy and are difficult to change. Statutes deal with the nuts and bolts of governing and can be amended with relative ease.
If this change has some unforeseen consequences or language that gives one group an advantage over another, the legislature will not be able to repair that language in less than about five years. And remember that this is a battle between big corporate players. Would you trust language they wrote that is difficult to interpret?
Just as a wealthy activist named Howard Rich exploited public unhappiness with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision on eminent domain in 2010 to sponsor state ballot measures around the U.S.—including Nevada—to adopt state laws writing condemnation laws the way business wants them, the sponsors of Question 3 this year may see the Nevada Public Service Commission’s unpopular decisions on net metering as creating a climate that will help them get their measure passed. But it deals with electricity generation. Its impact on distribution is minimal. The ordinary concerns of residential users are not engaged by this measure.
It’s a measure that probably should never have been put before the public, but big business has long since turned to initiative petitions to deal with its business problems. This one is a battle between two players in the utility industry with other unpopular groups—such as casinos, the Nevada Legislature and the Public Utilities Commission—thrown into the mix. Question 3 is best described as Frankenstein vs. Dracula.
Ballot Question 4 would remove the state sales tax from prescribed medical equipment related to oxygen delivery and mobility, cutting costs for patients.
But why does it amend the Nevada Constitution? While it may seem unlikely that anyone would vote against a political action committee that a clever ad agency has dubbed the Alliance to Stop Taxes on the Sick and Dying, there has, in fact, been criticism against the measure for putting this tax loophole for one industry into the Nevada Constitution. Every other sales tax exemption—including one on prosthetic limbs—is in state statutes.
Even Nevada’s right-wing, anti-tax state controller—in an essay he wrote with an aide—denounced the measure for just this reason. Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence called the change “great” but continued:
“However, while such reforms should be welcomed, they do not belong in the state constitution. Constitutions should be limited to fundamental matters of government organization, the rights of citizens, and specifying and limiting the powers of government, etc. Under Nevada’s constitution, the legislature already has the power to do all the good things this measure would require. However, particular provisions of this measure may be found defective or in need of change. As long as such reforms are done legislatively, they can be remedied [in timely fashion] by the legislature. That’s not the case if they are enshrined in the constitution.”
In addition, former Clark County senator Ann O’Connell argues, in the argument she wrote for the ballot language, “It is vaguely worded without clear definitions of what specific devices will be exempt and who will benefit, leaving such determination to the Legislature.” Again, if it is vague, it cannot be rewritten by the legislature as a statute could have been.
O’Connell also says this is another “giveaway” that is akin to “the $1.3 billion in subsidies to Tesla, $215 million in tax incentives to Faraday, and $7.8 million in tax abatements to six different companies relocating to Nevada.”
If either Q3 or Q4 have unforeseen mistakes in their language, the state will have to live with them for approximately five years before they can be corrected.