Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Deja Vu... No More

It hasn't even been two weeks since the Legislature began its 77th session, and already it feels like deja vu. During the first week, leaders in Carson City talked so much about "having a real conversation" on taxes. Yet despite having various real tax reform proposals on the table, they still look ready to ignore those proposals.

And not only that, but they're also talking about the very same hockey stick that has always been used to kick the puck of real tax reform down the road.

This legislative session, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, has said he supports discussing a sales tax on services that would broaden the tax base and allow the Legislature to decrease the overall sales tax rate.

He’s reprising an idea that Nevada has discussed for more than 20 years.

“Broadening of a sales tax base, coupled with some reduction of the sales tax rate, is appropriate,” said the 1989 Governor’s Commission to Study the Fiscal Affairs of State and Local Governments in Nevada, which recommended broadening the tax base be the “paramount concern” of the Legislature.

Roberson has said many times that he supports broadening the tax base, but “any kind of tax reform needs to be revenue neutral.” He’s again channeling ghosts of 1989.

“Broaden, on a revenue neutral basis, the general sales tax base to fully include hotels and lodging, food for home consumption, drugs, household fuels and other utilities (including telephone service), service to persons (e.g., dry cleaning, beauty and barber shops) and newspapers,” said the 1988 Price Waterhouse fiscal affairs study.

And that's not all. There have also been endless promises of "real tax reform". Yet when push comes to shove, we get nothing... Except for that very same stick and puck.

So are we set for deja vu yet again?

Perhaps not. After all, there are two major differences this session: The Education Initiative and SJR 15. The latter was already passed for the first time in 2011, while the former already collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the 2014 ballot if the Legislature doesn't act on it. All SJR 15 needs is a second round of passage this year in order to go to the voters on the 2014 ballot.

What's so sad about this is that these two proposals address the most glaring problems in Nevada's budget. It's pretty much common knowledge now that the mining industry pays nearly nothing in taxes, the other largest corporations doing business here pay very little in taxes, and the budget is far too reliant on the fortunes one sector (gaming & tourism). The Education Initiative and SJR 15 can break the cycle of logjam and empty promises on real tax reform and provide much needed revenue to fund our public infrastructure.

All the Legislature needs to do is pass SJR 15 a second time. That's all. It's not even really a vote for "more taxes". It's just allowing voters to decide on doing away with mining tax loopholes so legislators actually have more oversight on mining taxation.

And if legislators are really too scared to pass The Education Initiative themselves, then they should just let "we the people" decide on it next year. As my favorite philosopher would say, "Don't f**k it up."

This time may finally be different. It's just a matter of whether legislators want to take part in making the difference.

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