Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Let's Get Real.

Yep, that didn't last long. In the first moments of the new session of the Nevada Legislature, there was hope. There was talk of reform. There seemed to be opportunity.

But now, there's just the same old pile of nothing. Oh yes, that's right. "Revenue-neutral" is the new talk of the town in Carson City. And it has education advocates and other progressives wondering what's the point.

[Assembly Speaker Marilyn] Kirkpatrick [D-North Las Vegas], who so far has shied away from detailing what she wants to do on taxes this session, said she would favor eliminating the payroll tax and ending the “sunsets” on what was supposed to be a temporary tax increase.

“I want to get rid of the sunsets altogether,” she said of the 2009 tax increase that was originally supposed to expire in 2011. The Legislature extended those taxes two years ago and Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed another two-year extension.

“We can’t be on a seesaw,” she said. “I want the sunsets off.”

Kirkpatrick did not detail a specific proposal for broadening the tax base. But she said expanding the sales tax to include services — such as hairdressing, accounting and legal advice —would be a realistic approach. To make it “revenue-neutral,” the sales tax rate would be lowered.

So that's the big idea? Charge sales tax at the hair stylist and the lawyer's office? Seriously? And Legislature leaders wonder why both some individual legislators and many grassroots activists are so underwhelmed by this "reform"?

Sorry, but charging sales tax at the accountant's office doesn't address the core of Nevada's chronic revenue shortage. There are far deeper problems in Nevada's tax and budget structure that must be addressed. Taxes here are incredibly regressive, hitting the working poor & middle class the hardest. And as long as schools and other parts of Nevada's public infrastructure are chronically underfunded, we'll never attract the businesses we need for a stable and healthy economy.

Solutions are available. And in fact, the solutions are likely right on top of legislators' desks. SJR 15 addresses the serious shortfall that is the enshrinement of mining industry tax loopholes in the Nevada Constitution. (It's a key reason why multinational mining conglomerates pay almost no taxes in this state.) And of course, The Education Initiative offers a corporate margin tax modeled after the system in that socialist utopia that is TEXAS. (No, really.) At least these policies will actually provide real progress on tax reform if passed.

And it's not just hardened lefties saying this. Jim Rogers also chimed in (very) early this morning.

Nevada will never free itself from the influence of the horse and buggy structure and capabilities of its governance system unless it totally restructures and redefines government’s role to support the vast interests of the many faceted Nevada population.

We must face the facts. The Nevada of today is far different from the Nevada of the late 19th century. We're mostly an urban state now. We require public schools, freeways, and hospitals. And it makes no sense to continue legalized corporate tax evasion while tinkering with incredibly regressive and narrow tax policies that hit the middle class, the working poor, and small businesses the hardest.

So why continue this ridiculous "revenue-neutral" kabuki theater? OK, so Brian Sandoval and Republican legislators refuse to acknowledge Nevada's 21st century reality. Just solve the problem by sending SJR 15 and The Education Initiative to the voters. If the Legislature can't or won't fix Nevada's serious fiscal problems, then "We the People" must. The time for rearranging deck chairs on this Titanic in Carson City is over.

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