Costly ballot question 3 shot down
November 7, 2018
LAS VEGAS — Nevada voters answered a nearly $100 million question on Tuesday with a resounding vote against amending the state constitution to break up a monopoly held by the state's dominant electric utility.
The fight over Question 3 pitted NV Energy against two of its big energy customers, casino company Las Vegas Sands and data storage firm Switch, and became the most expensive ballot measure in state history — drawing more spending even than the races for U.S. Senate and Nevada governor.
Nearly three-fourths of voters had given the measure initial approval in 2016. But as a constitutional amendment, it required a second vote to become law.
Dave Chase, manager of the Yes on 3, campaign insisted late Tuesday that competition would drive prices down and increase renewable energy choices. He promised to continue the fight.
"The fact is, NV Energy spent more money opposing Question 3 than anyone has ever spent in the history of Nevada politics," he said.
Voters also decided Tuesday to enshrine victim rights in the state constitution, repealed taxes on feminine hygiene products and medical equipment, provided for automatic voter registration at the state motor vehicles department and agreed to speed the pace and raise the requirement for electricity generated from renewable energy sources.
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Backers of the energy choice initiative, led by Sands and Switch, spent nearly $33 million telling voters that companies and consumers should not be forced to buy electricity from one provider and that market forces and competition would drive prices down.
LV Sands, Switch and some other large corporations want to quit NV Energy and buy electricity elsewhere. But they face stiff exit penalties that would compensate smaller customers whose rates could be affected.
NV Energy, which faced the loss of its exclusive franchise, underwrote much of the $63.4 million spent against Question 3. Opponents characterized the initiative as a bid for unpredictable deregulation that would drive prices up.
NV Energy promised to invest billions of dollars in solar energy production if the measure failed, and to partner with six solar power development firms around the state to buy enough renewable energy to supply more than 600,000 homes.
The contest also was framed as a battle between billionaires. Investor Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, owns NV Energy while casino mogul Sheldon Adelson heads Las Vegas Sands, owner of the Venetian and Palazzo resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.
The victim rights measure was backed by California billionaire semiconductor company co-founder Henry Nicholas in memory of his slain sister, Marsalee "Marsy" Nicholas, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. It was approved by the state Legislature in 2015 and 2017, but needed voter approval as a constitutional amendment.
It expands the definition of a victim and lists 16 rights including privacy, protection from a defendant, refusal of interview or deposition requests without a court order, notice of court and parole hearings and "full and timely restitution."
The so-called "pink tax" repeal for feminine hygiene products, Question 2, needed voter approval as a tax law.
The medical equipment tax, Question 4, was framed as a patient tax relief initiative. It needed statewide approval as a constitutional amendment a second time, after passing with 72 percent of the vote in 2016.
The automatic voter registration issue, Question 5, amends state law to change what amounted to an opt-in system at the state Department of Motor Vehicles to an opt-out rule. That will require a person to check a box to decline voter registration.
The other energy question on the ballot, Question 6, won its first statewide vote. It will need voter approval again in 2020 as a constitutional proposal to raise the minimum amount of power that electric utilities generate or acquire from solar, wind or geothermal sources to 50 percent in 2030.