Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Can AFL-CIO Go It Alone on Tax Reform?

As mentioned yesterday, we've been on quite the wild roller coaster ride this year when it comes to tax reform. It's up... No, it's down... No, it's all around! Yesterday, we saw another twist in the form of a federal law suit being filed by the City of Fernley that threatens to take down Nevada's Consolidated Tax (or "C-Tax") system. And today, we're seeing an interesting turn at Nevada AFL-CIO. After NSEA turned down AFL-CIO's margin tax initiative over legal concerns, Danny Thompson is now claiming the state's largest union alliance is ready to pass the initiative all on its own.

After months of talks, teachers, gaming, mining and other Nevada power players are unwilling to join the initiative campaign, but AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson said that won’t doom the proposal to increase funding for education.

“We’re going to do this with or without the teachers,” Thompson said. “We’re going to do this with or without anyone.”

And here's where it gets really interesting. There have been rumors for several weeks about Brian Sandoval's power brokers bleeding dry both organizational and financial support for Nevada AFL-CIO's tax initiative. So obviously, there have been questions about how Danny Thompson can somehow make this work. In today's Sun article, Thompson himself provided us with some clues.

Thompson said he would have no problem collecting the signatures needed to qualify his ballot initiative.

“I can get the signatures internally,” he said. “I can go to the unions. I don’t even need to go out to the streets.”

Thompson wouldn’t disclose how many members unions affiliated with the state’s AFL-CIO have but noted that the Culinary alone has 65,000 members.

Thompson said despite rumors to the contrary, his organization has money to support an initiative campaign. He declined to reveal how much money the organization has.

“We have money,” he said. “We’re just not giving it away to candidates.”

It's funny that Danny Thompson brought up Culinary 226. Lately, they've been awfully busy fighting Station Casinos over both unionizing Station properties and heading off anti-union campaigns on The Strip. Yet last month in a stunning display of solidarity, the national AFL-CIO put aside past differences with Culinary's national partners (who joined SEIU in breaking away from AFL-CIO in 2005) to voice strong support for Culinary, and for Station workers looking to join the union.

Is there more to that alliance than what we saw last month outside Red Rock Resort & Casino? And is this why Danny Thompson doesn't seem to be shedding tears over the loss of the state teachers' union from his margin tax coalition and the deafening silence from Billy Vassiliadis and the R&R powerhouse business leaders? Thompson indeed makes a valid point about the grassroots might of Culinary's 65,000 members. If Culinary goes all in for this initiative, it will indeed mark a key turnaround for this initiative.

Thompson also noted something important in stating unions won't just be "giving away" money to candidates this year. This looks to be in line with the national AFL-CIO plan to focus more on its own campaign instead of just donating to Democratic party committees and candidates. We have been seeing Labor in full force in Wisconsin since last year, and now they're hoping to take the energy and momentum nationwide. And while Brian Sandoval has been trying hard lately to avoid becoming "The West's Answer to Scott Walker", Danny Thompson may nonetheless see opportunity in rallying workers behind a tax initiative that has the potential to carry a powerful "99%" economic justice message in making big business pay its fair share so working class kids can have a better education.

We'll have to wait and see where Danny Thompson and Nevada AFL-CIO ultimately go with this margin tax initiative. But now, it looks like there may actually be a path forward for it regardless of what NSEA and the Nevada Resort Association ultimately decide to do with it. Can the kind of Labor powered grassroots energy that reawakened progressive activism in Wisconsin and catapulted the Occupy message of economic justice to the national spotlight redefine the conversation on taxes and investment in public education here in Nevada?

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