zoology: Hungry wolves and haughty hogs
From Las Vegas CityLife, 4-24-2003
Only one thing is clear as the Nevada Legislature stumbles toward another mediocre conclusion: Nevada consumers that means you will pay and pay big.
This comes in large part because of a myth perpetuated by every political candidate: "I will represent only the people."
The biennial petting zoo we call a legislature just doesn't work that way. The rare lone wolves who howl for justice usually see their offspring shot and eaten.
No matter their campaign pledges, lawmakers simply react to the latest pressure brought to bear by dreaded (cover your eyes) special interest groups (SIGs). The label matters. Unless speaking for a high profile SIG, the average citizen's testimony has little chance of being quoted in the mainstream media. The watchdogs of democracy themselves thus bear silent witness to the fact that the individual, no matter how well informed, doesn't count for much.
Sharks extend professional courtesy only to other predators. Legislative zookeepers know to feed them or risk getting eaten alive. Major consumer bills are dying like flies while slop for the hogs is sloshed out wholesale.
Cox Cable is helping perpetuate Sprint's domination of telephone service. Cox helped kill a bill (Senate Bill 278) providing more local government control over Cox's deregulated cable TV monopoly. An industry-friendly countermeasure (SB 429) survives while most southern Nevada ratepayers continue to pay exorbitant franchise fees and receive not even one public access station for their money.
Opposing such publicly produced programming, a Clark County lobbyist actually testified that southern Nevada's community moral standards are so low that public access would become a porno channel. Gomorrah North's morals are no better, but their ratepayers have enjoyed a trouble-free array of public access channels for more than a decade.
A Reno cable executive recently said that each channel is worth $1 million annually. Do the math for the much larger Clark County market. Attempting to wound its fledgling competition, Cox wants a tax imposed on satellite services (SB 492). The bottom line: you will continue to pay more for less, as with Nevada Power.
Two years ago, just weeks after heeding Nevada Gov. Dudley Do-Right's clarion call to end utility deregulation, the legislature re-deregulated. The bill was gladly signed by the ex-utility CEO sitting in the governor's mansion. Now, major users like casinos can drop out of the system leaving small ratepayers to pick up the tab to maintain a notoriously junky system.
Consumers can carp all they want about high gasoline prices, just don't look for help from your government. Recently, Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval meekly accepted BigOil's standard rationale that market forces rule and nothing can be done. Sandoval pulled legislation which would have empowered his office to act on price gouging. This brought fire from state consumer advocate Timothy Hay who had the guts to criticize his own boss. Another bill (SB 422) allowing BigOil to open more stations is on its way to passage.
Are Nevada consumers willing to defend themselves? Will they fund a consumer lobby? This is standard political science 101. A look at just about any other state will find many such groups. But not here on the Sagebrush Plantation with the most disconnected electorate in the country.
Your lawmakers will soon send you the bill for the bitter fruits of their labors.
You pay either way.
Be well. Raise hell.
Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org. He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.
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