Sunday, January 15, 2012

"The T Word" & 2012

This morning, The Sun asked Mitt Romney to come clean on where he really stands on storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain while the RGJ begged all the G-O-TEA contenders to have an honest conversation with Nevada voters on what to do to fix the economy (Ha! Like that's possible...). Of course all the attention is going toward the upcoming caucuses, but there's another big issue looming this year. And while the discussion was dominated last year by which of Nevada's big power players would line up behind which initiative, someone else has emerged to fire the opening shot.

Kermitt Waters seeks to place on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment calling for a sweeping overhaul of Nevada’s tax system — abolishing property taxes on single-family homes among other things while identifying and allocating new tax revenue.

Waters said last week his proposal is borne of frustration with the status quo in Carson City. The state’s 63 lawmakers represent the powerful interests who fund their campaigns, he said, not the voters who elect them.

“The people of Nevada don’t have a Legislature. Mining and gaming have a Legislature,” Waters said. “If the Legislature could get their hands on this money, none of this would ever happen.”

However, there's a big problem with Kermitt Waters' initiative... And ironically enough, his dilemma is the exact same one that has hampered anti-choice extremists from putting a "personhood initiative" (like the one that failed in Mississippi last fall) on the ballot this fall. Basically, both initiatives face major legal roadblocks because of the "single subject rule" that requires citizen sponsored initiatives to address one issue and one issue only. And with both the "call the zygotes people" anti-choice radicals and Waters continuing to fight it out in court, we'll have to see if 2012 is finally the year that unleashes more initiatives onto our ballots.

So what's the problem with Waters' initiative? Basically, he's out to:

- Eliminate the property tax for single family homes

- Establish a 20% levy on mining companies

- Set up a gross receipts tax on businesses earning over $1 million a month


- Use the new revenues to set up a fund separate from the state's general fund (so legislators and the Governor can't use any of this new money to cover everything else in the general fund and/or pay for new tax cuts somewhere else) to pay for a new system of Nevada appeals courts, increased investment in public education, more renewable energy investment, expanded health care coverage, and more.

Wow. Now that's ambitious! Oh yeah, and now it's easier to see why Kermitt Waters' initiative runs into trouble with the "single subject rule". Theoretically one could argue that it all falls under the blanket subject of the state budget, but someone else could easily argue that Waters' proposal is a legal hot mess that change everything from state mining law to public education to private property rules to energy policy and more if passed.

Honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around Kermitt Waters' initiative myself... But regardless of whether or not his initiative makes this year's ballot, he kick-starts the much needed conversation on what kind of Nevada we want for the future. In addition, he also allows for the conversation to "shift more to the left" by bringing to the table more progressive tax solutions, like fixing our woefully outdated mining tax policy and making big corporations pay instead of shifting the burden to working class families. We should really appreciate that, even if some of us are leery of the unintended (????) consequences of messing with Nevada's "single subject rule" for initiatives. (If Waters succeeds, definitely expect more religious right lunacy and "tea party" nuttery to make their way onto our ballots as well.)

Now don't get me wrong, I also appreciate what groups like the AFL-CIO are doing in building a broad coalition for tax reform that takes us in a positive direction for a change. But then again, as I pointed out back in June, there may be a catch:

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.

And now, none other than "Angry Plebe Champion" Kermitt Waters has stepped up with a bold and ambitious tax reform plan that threatens to steal thunder from the more moderate AFL-CIO plan that Danny Thompson is hoping to win over big business with, and from Nevada GOP big wig Monte Miller's tax proposals that ProgressNow fears may be a right-wing attempt to "rat f*ck" the other tax reform initiatives. At the very least, there's hope that we're finally reaching a "critical mass" here in Nevada where we can finally have an adult conversation on raising the revenue our state needs to properly function. Think about it. Not that long ago, "The T Word" was so "dirty" and "taboo" that hardly anyone wanted to even approach the subject. But with at least three different sets of tax initiatives that may come to a grocery store parking lot near you very soon, it feels like the sense of taboo is finally fading away.

It remains to be seen just how sincere Monte Miller is about his tax proposals, how Kermitt Waters intends to get the legal approval needed to start circulating petitions for his proposal, and whether the AFL-CIO can really coalesce a "grand business-labor coalition" behind its "trans-partisan consensus" proposal. But hopefully now that it's started, we can hope the conversation on real, progressive, 21st century tax reform in Nevada can continue in 2012.

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