Wednesday, March 28, 2012

#NVLeg & The Taxing Conversation

I guess The R-J tried to redeem itself today (after posting its FAIL-o-rific Legislature "election analysis" on Monday) by posting this much more thoughtful and insightful piece on SD 11. Aaron Ford ran as the Democratic nominee in SD 12 (against Doc Hardy) in 2010, but this time he's in much safer waters in the race to replace Mike Schneider in the new SD 11 that runs from Spring Valley to Southwest Vegas. He's the Senate Democratic Caucus pick, so one would think he'd have a much easier ride this time...

But alas, this time he has trouble in the Democratic Primary. Harry Mortenson may be 81 years old, but that isn't stopping him from dreaming big, thinking aloud, and running for the Senate seat that covers much of the turf he represented in the Assembly for 14 years. But funny enough, the biggest wedge between Mortenson and Ford (who, by the way, is 39) probably won't be age. Instead, it looks to be taxes. Yes, you heard me right. Ford seems to be willing to wait and see how Brian Sandoval's tax extension plan works out in the next year, while Mortenson believes we just need to implement a corporate income tax already so we can have more fairness and reliable income streams in our budget.

But wait, there's more.

On Monday, Senator Greg Brower (R-Reno) ran into huge trouble when Jon Ralston called him to the mat for his flip-flop on the sunset taxes (that Brian Sandoval now wants to extend indefinitely) on "Face to Face".

This morning, Ralston ripped him a new one on his inconsistent and insincere "change of heart".

First, Brower told me Sandoval wanted to “take advantage of the revenue sunset taxes would bring, and I support him in that.” Solidly, it seemed.

But just a few moments later, his feet of clay on the issue became evident when pressed: “This is just at the planning phase. We haven’t voted on anything yet. Nothing is final.” And then the coup de lack of grace: “This takes the issue off the table in terms of politics.”

Governor, about those troops behind you: Ever heard of friendly fire?

Brower’s rhetorical peregrinations then took him to reaffirm his support for the governor and promise not to cut education. But he also said this is just “for planning purposes,” and when asked about committing to extend the taxes, replied, “No one has committed to that. What we’ve supported is the governor’s idea to plan to have the revenues.”


The governor’s office’s reaction was unequivocal: “In order to avoid cuts to education and other essential services, revenues from the sunset taxes will need to be continued.” Sandoval seems ... committed.

During the interview, Brower told me about the clear contrast he will have with Leslie. But if they both support extending taxes and both oppose education cuts, where’s the big difference? And while we know where Leslie will vote on almost any tax increase, how do we know which Greg Brower will cast a vote?

Good point, Mr. Ralston. Good point.

And this is what we've been talking about all along. Is Brian Sandoval's newfound embrace of the sunset taxes just a political stunt meant to blunt Democratic candidates' talking points on education funding and outside grassroots campaigns for tax initiatives on the ballot? And even if Sandoval is sincere about providing a more robust and reliable stream of public education funding, will Chuck Muth, NPRI, and their army of "tea party" culture warriors ever really allow for enough moderation in the Republican Caucus to allow for a grown-up conversation on taxes and responsible budgeting?

Greg Brower managed on Monday to expose several "dirty little secrets" that Sandoval's inner circle would rather bot discuss. And unfortunately for them, Ralston is taking pleasure in raising a stink about it.

But oddly enough, this and Mortenson's candor are renewing my hope. Why? Let me explain.

Governor Sandoval and his PR team had expected to destroy all honest debate on tax reform with their "surprise sunrise of the sunset taxes". But if Republican candidates like Brower suggest they're not really meaning what Pete Ernaut wants them to say, and if Democratic candidates like Harry Mortenson and Pat Spearman keep raising hell on the left over real tax reform, and if tax initiative backers refuse to stand down on their efforts to pull some "ballot box budgeting" that goes against Carson City conventional wisdom, then can Brian Sandoval keep acting like there's nothing for us to see or discuss?

Maybe it was premature to declare tax reform "dead" after all. Greg Brower's constant flip-flopping should serve as a reminder to Team Sandoval that "Tea Party, Inc." won't go down on "Sunrise to Sunsets" without a fight. And Brower's flip-flopping should serve as a reminder to us that we won't ever realize a stable budget and sound governance until we have an honest conversation on bringing Nevada's tax code into the 21st century once and for all. Brian Sandoval may be trying to bring back the era of "bipartisan" budgetary gimmicks, but perhaps those on the left, right, and center can still ultimately conspire to declare that era of Nevada history over.

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