Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The T Word"... And Who Can Really Handle It

It's the word so many in Carson City fear. It's the word that dare not be said. It's the word that has haunted and vexed Nevada for decades. It's...

[Drumroll please...]


And believe it or not, someone in Carson City dared to utter it yesterday... In The Legislature!

By comparison, it was a doctorate-level discussion in the Senate, where committee Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, vowed to tackle the state’s wobbly tax structure.

“We want to really look at the tax system we have in the state,” she said. “It’s not news to anyone that our state is facing structural deficits, cyclical deficits. It’s time to take out the unpredictability in our system and establish a tax structure that really is ready for the 21st century.”

Cognizant of the eye-rolling over the committee’s new name, Leslie quickly dispelled the notion that they wouldn’t address by name the most pressing issue before the Legislature this session.

“We’re not afraid of the T-word,” she said. “I’ll say it: taxes.”

Yes, that's right. Taxes.

So Sheila Leslie said it. Will The Legislature just do it? And if they don't do it, will we the people do it for them?

Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed significant cuts to social services, higher education and K-12 schools to balance the budget. Democrats and advocates for those services say the cuts would cause irreparable damage. But these pro-tax forces face an uncertain future in dealing with the state’s $2.2 billion deficit.

“If the Legislature doesn’t have the political will to address the situation, citizens will do it themselves,” said Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers. She said the union has been in talks with business leaders, labor and other groups about an initiative petition, but that it has yet to develop into a formal proposal.

Democrats, moderate Republicans and some business leaders face a high hurdle in gathering votes to pass a tax increase this year. It takes a two-thirds majority in the Assembly and Senate to pass a tax increase and override a veto from Gov. Brian Sandoval, who campaigned on a promise to balance the budget without raising taxes.

A vote of the people would take longer to implement than legislative action. But raising taxes through a ballot initiative would require approval from only 50 percent of voters rather than the two-thirds required in the Legislature.

It's certainly an interesting suggestion... But can it really work? Or are we playing with a totally new set of dangerous flames?

California, here we come (again)?

This is why we moved away from an Athenian-style direct democracy to a representative democracy. Our American founding fathers understood that not every voter had the capacity to take everything into context to make the decisions we expect of our legislators. You could argue that the information age has brought the knowledge necessary closer to the people, but in the end, uninformed voters are making decisions without all of the facts.

Even in a state of 1 million people the system would be impractical, here it's downright unworkable. [LA Times columnist George] Skelton takes [CA Governor Jerry] Brown to task for boxing himself into the corner, but really, it was something of an electoral practicality. He may have won without it, but it sure made it a lot easier. But, here we are, in a position where Brown is now forced to bring this to the voters instead of just doing his job and making the decisions for the state with the Legislature.

Yes. I know. I did it. Again.

But you know what? I've seen it firsthand, so I can recognize it.

Ever since Proposition 13 first passed in 1978, California has endured an endless cycle of taxing (and tax cutting) and spending by way of ballot referendum. And look where it's gotten them. They're in constant crisis mode because voters love to pass all sorts of programs, but hate passing the revenues needed to fund them. So now California voters have a chance at a "do over", and it looks like they may just get it right this time.

However, can they really afford to continue governing by ballot box? And do we in Nevada want to risk total danger by essentially sidelining our own Legislature and taking its due powers into our own hands?

We know what's wrong with our system. We know that we can't keep avoiding "the t word". We need to have an honest conversation on raising the revenue we need to keep the state functioning for now, and get our state working toward a better future.

However, we need to be careful when we start talking about taking decisions that are supposed to be made by our elected legislators and making them at the ballot box. Perhaps it may ultimately be necessary to go to the ballot this time to get the revenue we need to save our state, but let's hope our legislators get the job done this session so that we the people don't have to. After all, that's why we the people voted them into office in the first place.


  1. Unfortunately we have voted ourselves too many services with no money to fund them. If the Legislature won't vote for a tax increase, please stop giving the voters the opportunity to vote for things that cost without the means of paying.

    The federal government is facing the same challenge.

    I'll pay my share when it comes. We really must pay for the things we want. I want federal health care, for example, and I am completely willing to pay for it.

    Taxes are going to go up, people, at both the federal and state levels. Stop voting for folks who promise no tax increases. It's unrealistic and completely handcuffs the ability to get anything done.

  2. A little honesty would go a long way. The government enacts programs and expands programs while not carrying out the required functions of government.

    While I do not object to paying taxes, I do object to everyone not paying taxes. Everyone should pay taxes.

    Now, Either you think the people can get it right or they can't. Either you think that people can govern themselves or they cannot. Like I said a little honesty from our legislators both democrat (progressive) and Republican (progressive and conservative) But since we know that is not going to happen.

    Whose taxes do you want to raise? Be careful in your answer.