Oh curb your Schadenfreude

Privatizer 1 and Privatizer 2

The 2017 Nevada legislative session is over and Gov. “Bad Ass” Brian Sandoval and his fellow Republicans were humiliated. All their huffing and puffing over school vouchers could not blow down uncharacteristically firm Democratic opposition.

On the other hand, Nevada workers need higher wages and paid sick leave, and they got neither.


Democrats passed legislation to raise the minimum wage. One presumes Sandoval, now voucherless and probably sad, will veto it.

With that contingency in mind Democratic lawmakers also gave initial approval to a constitutional amendment to raise wages. They need to pass it again, in 2019, and then it will go on the 2020 ballot — a presidential election year when Democratic turnout is typically higher.

If voters get a chance to approve the amendment, they will. That means Nevada’s minimum wage will rise to $9.40 on Jan. 1, 2021, and then increase by $1.15 a year until it hits $14, in 2025. The amendment also confirms the legislature’s authority to raise the wage higher than those amounts.

No state policy or action — breaking up a school district, increasing education funding, monitoring insulin costs, finding a little money for a medical school at UNLV — nothing — not even an opulent shrine to North America’s largest and wealthiest professional sports monopoly — would have a larger impact on a greater number of people than higher wages.

I wasn’t in Carson City and I don’t know if Democrats could have assured a more immediate wage gain if they had given Sandoval his vouchers. I’ve no use for school privatization, to put it mildly, but a case can be made that a trade would have been worth it, especially since most Democrats did accept an “opportunity scholarship” scheme that gives tax credits to businesses who bankroll vouchers, er, scholarships for private schools. That program is far more means-tested than Sandoval’s preferred privatization program, and only a third of what Sandoval wanted to spend. Most importantly, the tax-credits are a one-time shot and not a recurring program. Some Republicans are trying to claim the tax credits are a win for vouchers, other Republicans are basically calling Sandoval a cuck, so there’s a fight in which I do not have a dog. I will note, however, that when tax credits are granted, that means money that would have come to the state never will. All the sloganeering aside, the Legislature did, in point of fact, authorize spending public money on private schools.

Could Democrats have secured an immediate minimum wage hike in return? We’ll know when Sandoval vetoes/signs the minimum wage bill they sent him.

As for the constitutional amendment process (which does not require Sandoval’s signature), if trumpophile Republican Adam Laxalt wins the governorship next year but Democrats retain control of both houses of the legislature, the amendment will almost assuredly go to voters in 2020.

If, for the first time in the current century, a Democrat wins the governorship, well, things could actually be more uncertain. A Democratic governor might just sign off on an immediate, substantive wage hike, in which case legislators might see no need to pass the amendment a second time. On the other hand, a different sort of Democratic governor might insist on a much smaller wage increase, and pressure Democratic legislators to shelve the constitutional amendment because it upsets business and goodness we mustn’t have that.

Again, no policy issue is more practically meaningful to more working Nevadans than a significant pay hike. Maybe somebody will say something about that while campaigning for governor.

Paid sick leave

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than a third of private sector workers in the U.S. are not eligible for any paid sick leave. Instead, they have to invest in insurance that covers them in the case of having to have time off for a long term illness or injury. Luckily, employees can get disability insurance no medical exam needed so there aren’t too many hoops to jump through. For race, gender, occupation and other state-level demographic and industrial characteristics, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has estimated nearly half of all Nevada private sector workers have no paid sick leave. Sick leave should be an essential right for all workers. If any reader wants to find a resource to learn about sick leave click here for more information.

Sandoval vetoed a modest paid sick leave bill (and Republicans upheld the veto) because Sandoval is at bottom a casual trickle-downer who believes the surest way to serve people, and thus the highest priority of state government, is to protect and promote business. If business says working Nevadans simply do not deserve paid sick leave, that the needs of working Nevadans pale in comparison to the wishes and desires of business owners, that’s good enough for Brian Sandoval.
Sandoval likes to tout things like his “workforce development” agenda and the Tesla and NFL giveaways as bold, innovative, transformative etc. steps to develop the economy. In fact his economic worldview is a case study in late 20th/early 21st century conventional wisdom. Should a low-income working mother lose days of wages and plunge even deeper into the abyss of financial insecurity and material hardship with all its accompanying misery, stress and despair because her child got sick? Let the market decide!

How, or if, Nevada will now move forward on paid sick leave policy is unclear. Much of the action nationally on wages and sick leave is happening at city or county levels. I had hoped that, anticipating Sandoval’s veto, Democrats would try to get consolation legislation allowing local governments to regulate the private sector’s wage and sick-pay policies. After all, their forced state takeover of a school district notwithstanding, Republicans are pretty fond of saying that the best government is that closest to the people. But that didn’t happen. I still wonder if it wouldn’t be worthwhile for Las Vegas and/or Clark County to enact a sick-pay ordinance. If nothing else, the inevitable court case might begin a needed probe into how Nevada could get out from under Dillon’s Rule and become a home rule state.

Oh by the way, according to the BLS, as a percent of total compensation costs, the cost to employers of providing paid sick leave was a whopping 1.1 percent in the U.S. in 2016 — although in Nevada’s largest occupational group, the service sector, it accounted for eight-tenths of one percent.