Sunday, June 5, 2011

Off to the Ballot Box We Go?

SHOCK! Progressives aren't jumping for joy over the state budget deal.

Nevada's stunning budget agreement will continue to impose a much higher tax burden on the poor than on the rich while severely underfunding education and humane social services, thus inflicting immediate and long-term damage to Nevada's already hopelessly wrecked economy.

But judging from the sparkling headlines and gushing praise, perhaps the most wonderful thing about this "true leadership," this "triumph of leadership," is that lawmakers are cooperating to expedite Nevada's irreversible downward spiral politely and on time.

SHOCK! More progressives are thinking aloud about possible 2012 ballot initiatives.

There you have it. Sandoval saved our schools. He suddenly cares about class sizes. What a crock of public relations bullshit. Sandoval’s no new tax pledge was a mistake. He made it so the drooling far right wing of the Republican party would vote for him, and so they did, and now we’re all paying the price. How will Nevada students stack up to schools in states where funding per pupil is twice what it is in Nevada? Where will the best teachers look for jobs?

I wish God’s speed and best of luck to any coalition of citizens that wants to put tax questions to voters. The Democrats tried to broaden and update the state’s revenue base with a margin tax on large corporations and a sales tax on services, but the Republicans would have none of it. They sat on their hands with their fingers in their collective ears. The Governor and Republicans in the Legislature proposed no other solution than cuts to the state budget. They heard the testimony. School administrators and professors and teachers and students and parent across the state described the terrible effects of the Governor’s proposed budget on our already grossly underfunded school systems, yet Sandoval and his keen advisors decided schools could withstand the cuts. And what’s worse, our system of taxation is still broken. Our state budget will continue to yoyo, and next session we can balance the budget on the backs of schools and the poor to protect narrow corporate profits once again. Sandoval says we will grow our way out of revenue problems, but an unstable state budget and worst in the nation schools are not incentives for companies to move here. I have no faith in the governor’s promises. He works for the board room and not our state’s citizens.

I am hopeful a group of concerned Nevadans will form and gather the necessary signatures to put similar tax reforms as proposed by Democrats this session to a vote of the people in November 2012. Through the Governor and Republican lawmakers, the entire state is held hostage by a radical minority of antigovernment nut cases in the Republican party, but if given the opportunity, the citizens of Nevada will make the right choices, even if their Republican representatives will not.

SHOCK! Nevada's most powerful and influential corporate citizens are also not overjoyed with this budget deal, and they may be willing to join labor unions and other progressive organizers to pass some sort of progressive tax reform next year. Wait... HUH??!! OK, this one actually IS a shocker!

Lobbyists representing major Nevada industries are talking with labor and education leaders about putting taxes in front of voters in 2012.

The target right now is a question or questions that will revive some of the taxes Democrats unsuccessfully proposed this session, sources said.

The conversations are built on a consensus among business leaders and labor representatives that major tax reform will never come out of the Legislature.

“I’ve lost all faith in the ability of the Legislature to fund government,” said Danny Thompson, executive secretary/treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor group. “The only solution is to go to the people.” [...]

According to sources with knowledge of the discussions, the coalition could end up backing a number of separate questions, including on the “margin tax” and sales tax on services. If the teachers union is involved, as is likely, there would also be some sort of mechanism to ensure that a portion of funding goes to education, a lobbyist said.

Gaming and mining, the state’s two major industries, are the most obvious funders for a campaign. The thinking for them is this: If the public gets too upset at cuts and inadequate funding for education, they will target the state’s two prominent industries.

For years now, the state’s establishment has warned against going to the ballot to set tax policy.

But as the Nevada 2011 session comes to a close with another muddling solution of temporary taxes and spending cuts, the frustration is obvious.

“The environment is ripe for those conversations (with industry leaders) to happen after this session,” said one business lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Of course, there has to be a catch somewhere. In this case, the powers that be in Nevada's gaming-mining-lobbying industrial complex are afraid the angry mob of plebes just might come after them for years of pulling the puppet strings of "the best state government money can buy" that never seemed to care about the people very much. So now, out of desire not to bear the brunt of the people's wrath, these powers that be now want to help pass some kind of broad-based tax reform.

Now of course, everyone's favorite "lovable curmudgeon" pundit sounded the alarms yet again on what may happen if we keep kicking this budgetary can down the road. And though he doesn't utter "The C Word" himself, it's quite clear he's starting to see what I've been seeing for some time.

Republicans here always make scary comments about this state becoming some sort of "Little California", but their very obstruction on the budget and diabolical brinksmanship games with state government are turning us into California!

Sometimes, I really do wonder if Republican legislators are spending time that should be used working on a budget deal to instead study up on how California Republicans have turned Sacramento into an endless game of "Mortal Combat"... Where the folks who get killed off are kids in need of education, and seniors & disabled in need of health care. Read Calitics' budget diaries and notice the strange air of familiarity to them.

It seems like both at the federal level and in other states, Republicans are exporting the California model of obstructing their way to broken government to the rest of the country.

Either way, Nevada's governance will start to look a lot more like California's, and more like other Western states (such as Arizona) that have become accustomed to partisan turf wars, ballot box budgeting, and "direct democracy gone wild". It's now a question of whether Nevada will keep sputtering on its way to the bottom, or if progressives can turn this around and take advantage of this unique opportunity to inject more common sense into our state government. The days of Kenny Guinn and Barbara Buckley and Bill Raggio making "grand bargains" seem to be long gone. Term limits are taking away experienced legislators. Meanwhile, the power vacuum is being filled by corporate lobbyists, party central committees, and other outside forces.

So what can we do? In the long term, I still believe it's in our best interest that progressives work toward reforming state government to make it more responsive to the people and less beholden to special corporate interests. But in the mean time, we can't wait on the sidelines for the next two years while Nevada's people continue to suffer inadequate public education, health care, transportation, and other infrastructure necessary to make our state whole again.

So now, we have to ask ourselves not whether and when we will go to the ballot and ask the people to save our state, but how we will do so and who we will build coalitions with. Should we work with gaming and mining on a broad-based business tax? Should we work with other progressive activists on a corporate income tax? Should we push for some sort of mining tax reform? 2012 may seem like a long hike away, but it really isn't. We need to start planning now to take the first necessary steps to save our state and bring real progressive reform to Nevada government.

No comments:

Post a Comment