Thursday, June 05, 2003

Media bashing, cont.

RE: The departure of Raines and Boyd from the NYT and this exchange between Glenn Reynolds and my friend and former boss Virginia Postrel:

Virginia 1, Instapundit 0. I've been a professional journalist for 14 years now, and though I've spent my entire career (save 4 unpleasant months as a business reporter) writing opinion, commentary or analysis, I have tried to win readers over with persuasive arguments backed by information. It's not always easy to do so in 200-500 words, and there are times the people you're writing about deserve to be hit over the back of the head with a rhetorical 2-by-4 rather than wooed with sweet logic.

That said, I have nothing but admiration for the people who report the news well in print, even though I'm often (if not usually) at odds with their worldview. The ability to schmooze, cajole, woo, threaten, and whatever else it takes to cultivate sources and get them to say interesting and useful things is very hard work ... and then organize and present the information in a compelling fashion, is a set of talents worthy of respect. I know. Virginia gave me my first paying job, at Reason, soon after she became editor, and back then, outside libertarian circles, the magazine was invisible. (That changed as she moved the magazine into the opinion elite.) I recall how difficult it was to get ANYBODY who was either unaware of Reason (or hostile to its philosophy) to talk, return phone calls, whatever. We had no clout, so no one felt obligated to pay us any mind.

The situation is different with local papers doing local stories, particularly publications with credibility and/or influence (meaning, typically, circulation). In part, folks will talk to reporters under those circumstances because ignoring them is not a good idea. Politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders can't allow unfavorable information to sit there in the ether without giving it their own spin. Also, you have to appreciate vanity; people do love to see their names in the paper.

But that doesn't make wrangling the info out of them any easier. It's very difficult, stressful, trying work. Still, when you really nail a story or get that killer quote, the rush you get is unparalleled.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Isn't that special?

The 19th Special Session of the Nevada Legislature convenes at 4 p.m. today. Lawmakers failed to pass a tax package but did complete every spending bill but THE BIG ONE ... the K-12 education spending package.

Kenny Guinn, the gaming industry, the teachers union and the political establishment will lean on wavering lawmakers, claiming that any vote to "cut" school spending is a vote against "the children."

But there are two obvious candidates for the cutting room floor: A $181 million increase in teacher pay, including $102 million for higher salaries, $50 million for health benefits, and $29 million for the pension plan; and $226 million to fund the teacher full-employement act, aka class-size reduction, a program which doesn't improve student achievement an iota.

And there's some good news: Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, the 74-year-old, ultra-establishment, 800-lb. gorilla of this and every legislative session, lost what amounts to a vote of confidence from his Republican caucus when he was informed there weren't enough votes to pass any version of the gross-receipts tax from the Senate. A defanged Raggio might well decide to hang it up when the session ends, return to Reno, and allow a geniune fiscal conservative from Las Vegas (freshman Barbara Cegavske is my pick) to take control of that body.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Gee, thanks, George

To get its tax cut package through Congress, the Bush administration had to allow an unwise $20 billion bailout of state governments (thanks primarily to California, which is quickly deteriorating into Third World status). Nevada got a little windfall from the deal as well, amounting to roughly $100 million. Rather than use the money to close the current budget gap, which is what the bailout was intended to do, the Guinning Spree continues. (Thanks to my colleague Vin Suprynowicz for coming up with that one.) Most of it will finance a permanent 2 percent pay hike for state employees, beginning next year, AND the government will triple the longevity pay given to workers who have been malingering on the taxpayer dime for so long they've run out of automatic step "merit" pay raises. So the fattest bureaucracy in the nation gets a little chunkier, thanks to our "conservative" president's deal-makers in washington.

This little windfall will be the gift that keeps on giving, as Nevada taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for the pay raise permanently, even though the down payment that made it possible will run out next year. It's like getting a $1,200 bonus and -- rather than, say, paying down your credit card debt -- going out and buying a new house with a mortgage that's $100 a month higher than your current one.

The cost of this Guinning? $67 million a year, for starters. Firing squads may be in order.

CORRECTION: The AP story was off, on a couple of accounts. Nevada received a $68 million windfall from the feds. And the money wasn't spent directly on the pay hikes, but did free up enough room in the state budget to allow the pay hikes to go through. Details, details.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Why the Nevada Legislature could make national news ...

The Legislature must adjourn in 27 hours, and as of this writing, no deal has been struck to finance the $850 million in new spending that's been authorized by the appropriators. The Senate wants to replace the per-employee "head tax" with a payroll tax (which sounds like a decent trade-off at first blush; stay tuned). The Assembly continues to insist on a mutant version of the gross-receipts tax. Neither side has budged.

What sounds really promising is a rumor, reported by George Knapp of the local CBS affiliate this afternoon, that Assembly Republicans are threatening to pull a Texas on us and walk out of the Legislature, denying Democrats sufficient votes to pass any new taxes. This would necessitate a special session, at which (with luck) some of the spending programs could be cut. Of course, Knappster made his name reporting UFO sightings (and, naturally, during his report consulted a psychic who offered a prediction of when both houses might come to an agreement), but this is the best news I've heard lately.

Sure, Kenny. Shut the government down in July when schools aren't in session and everybody's on vacation anyway. See who cares.

Tool Time

I'm still writing away, thank goodness, and my latest feature story is a speculative, somewhat whimsical piece that proposes five structural reforms that could bring Nevada state government back on track. Nevadans remain skeptical of welfare-state policies, and have a populist distrust of professional politicians, as the story points out. The state government has grown like kudzu precisely because there aren't sufficient institutional barriers in place to keep our part-time, "citizen" legislature from spending like drunken sailors. This piece offers some suggestions. Hope you enjoy it.

I'm baaack

I hope. It's been 4 1/2 months since the auto accident, and a lot of pleasurable things have gone by the wayside as I/we try to deal with the aftermath. The very good news is, Lola's injuries have healed with rest and therapy. No surgery is necessary in the foreseeable future, and she's walking and riding a stationary bike to rebuild her strength and stamina for a return (real soon, we hope) to the full-time world of work

As for me, the impact of my right leg against the steering column of my car tore a meniscus in two places in my right knee, so I'M THE ONE GOING UNDER THE KNIFE. After getting an MRI, our GP and an orthopedic surgeon we consulted agreed that therapy will not repair this injury. So I have arthroscopic surgery scheduled for July 2 here in Vegas, and with luck, I'll be out of action for only a few days. I have been cleared/encouraged to do some weight training and strenghten the calf and quad muscles around the knee, making recovery quicker, so I'm back at the gym. Just can't do any cardio work until the knee is fixed.

Legal action continues, but it'll be a long time before that's all resolved.