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by Ralph Heller

e may never know what really lured President Clinton to Lake Tahoe for the "presidential conference" Northern Nevada editors never stop swooning over. Is he really the ardent environmental zealot he'd like Al Gore to think he is, or was his visit merely one more Democratic Party campaign exercise? Maybe, of course, Monica was simply out of town that week so that the president had time on his hands.

This month's cover story by Pat Hickey suggests that Washington's real interest in Lake Tahoe has been painstakingly obscured by a variety of public relations exercises. U.S. Forest Service land exchanges in Nevada are presently under investigation by the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General's Office. And near the center of things, as he was during the president's visit, is Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, with Nevada's senators never very far from the action.

Babbitt is a veritable living, breathing conflict of interest whose office oversees all BLM operations but who not so long ago represented developer Del Webb’s efforts to acquire land from the BLM. He is also a former board member of the American Land Conservancy—itself active in several Las Vegas land deals.

Pat relates the story of a longtime Nevada ranching family that dared to enter into an agreement with Washington over use of a structure on the Dreyfus estate, only to find Washington re-defining permissible use of the estate after the deal was signed. The saga reads like a detective story and Pat ably pieces together the various elements of the tale.

But even Nevada Journal’s indefatigable editor didn't get quite the full story, one chapter of which came to light at a meeting of the Douglas County Commission. It seems that although the U.S. Forest Service would soon severely limit use of the Dreyfus property by its new owners, that was only after U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli had the benefit of its pleasures.

We've been told that it is a mere coincidence that New Jersey's Senator Torricelli is vice chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and that Nevada's Senator Reid plans to seek a Democratic Party senate leadership post if he is reelected. NPRI has also been told, of course, that the moon is made of green cheese.

Elsewhere in this issue Steven Miller explains how the Nevada Attorney General's Office for years provided the Department of Taxation with a misinterpretation of Nevada's property tax law—until 1996, in fact, when the manager of a family investment company prepared to ask the courts to compel compliance. Suddenly both Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa and the Department of Taxation had what Steven smilingly calls a "deathbed conversion."

What is especially tragic about all this is that under the "gentlemen's agreement" Nevada called the "Tax Shift" of 1981, increases in virtually every conceivable tax and fee in the state were to be balanced by a stable lid on property taxes. Those solemn legislative promises were worth no more than most government promises, of course, and since that time combined county and local property taxes in every county have been hiked 115 percent or more, while the state's own portion of the property tax went up 500 percent.

What the state had been doing prior to 1996 was wrongly limiting taxpayer appeals, and Miller reports the details, insufferable official arrogance and all. Accompanying the revealing article are the brief stories of three widows whose property taxes are utterly out of control

What D. Dowd Muska reports as today's solar nonsense gets a once-over in an article he calls "Waiting for the Sun," in the course of which he reports on a highly fashionable energy company known as CSTRR—the Corporation for Solar Technology and Renewable Resources—which itself seems to only run on political juice.

Fueling (no pun intended) this frantic search for ever cleaner sources of energy, of course, is the fear of global warming. So do we dare tell the CSTRR enthusiasts that in 1972, only four years before global warming became fashionable, The Cooling was on The New York Times’ Best Seller List, confidently predicting that another ice age was imminent?

Also in this issue Dan Steninger reports on some present law enforcement practices reminiscent of the Third Reich, Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute finds that reducing class size accomplishes very little, J. D. Deming reports on what it's like to live in a place with no constitutional right to bear arms, and D. Dowd Muska makes a second appearance, reviewing Slaying the NIMBY Dragon.

Finally, it was my disheartening duty to assemble for readers two charts from the U.S. Department of Commerce and certain other facts which together make painfully clear that there are extremely serious questions hanging over Nevada's economic future. But let's conclude our monthly previews on this page with a smile. A reader reports that he never would have guessed that Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr could conspire so convincingly to show Al Gore what global warming is really all about! Just don't tell the folks at CSTRRNJ

Ralph Heller is senior consulting editor of Nevada Journal.


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