One of my co-workers was a woman who lived in Sacramento, Calif. Her job was to report about changes to tax law from the state capital. She was smart, sweet, attractive and a huge tax nerd.
A few years ago, amid one of California’s many budget crises, she led a small (read: one-person) effort to have the state personal income tax form include a line on which people could voluntarily report their use tax obligation. Most of us don’t know what use tax is because we don’t pay it. You know how you shop on the Internet to avoid sales tax? Use tax is what you’re supposed to pay in its place.
The idea was to give people a chance to be honest about paying the tax they owed and help the state in its hour of need. Needless to say, my co-worker was probably the only person in the entire Golden State to actually make use of the use tax line.
This former co-worker still lives in Sacramento, so maybe I could convince her to move a few hours east to Nevada, which could use more people like her right about now. This past week, I read a report about a group of people who went to Carson City and asked legislators to extend some taxes that were set to end soon. These pleas were made by people whose interests — art, business, education, etc. — face huge cuts because Republican legislators and the governor refuse to raise taxes that would generate the revenue needed to reduce the cuts.
“Lifting the sunsets on the temporary taxes could help fill the gap between the governor’s $6.1 billion recommended budget and the larger one Democratic lawmakers have approved,” according to an Associated Press story. “Proponents say the taxes, which include a school support tax, a modified business tax, a minerals tax and a business license fee, are already in place and have not hampered economic growth so far.”
When it comes to situations such as these, I am all in favor of belt-tightening. To me, the state’s budget problems are no different from a family’s budget problems: When times are tough, everybody sucks it up, makes sacrifices, works harder and gets through. However, I am not opposed to examining every avenue to make the situation better. When money is tight, there are two basic paths: cut expenses and raise revenue.
State legislators seem to have cutting expenses down pat. But GOP leaders apparently are myopic when it comes to possible solutions to the Silver State’s fiscal woes. This notion of not raising taxes is nothing more than political grandstanding, not real leadership.
The group that asked to extend the sunsetting taxes might get its way after all. The state Supreme Court this week told Gov. Brian Sandoval that his attempt at keeping a campaign promise not to raise taxes was, in effect, a tax. The court ruled that the inclusion of $62 million taken from the Clark County Clean Water Coalition in his proposed budget was tantamount to an unconstitutional tax. As a result, the AP reported, Sandoval is now considering extending some of the taxes set to end June 30.
Didn’t anyone ever tell Gov. Sandi that no one actually expects politicians to keep their campaign promises? We all know that starting in high school with student body elections. “As student body president, I promise shorter school days, pizza and hamburgers every day for lunch and rock bands performing in the courtyard,” a teenage candidate would say, but none of us were fooled. We clapped at the idea, but even at that idealistic age we knew it would never happen. Why as adults would we think any differently about “no new taxes”?
The court might had given Sandi a get-out-of-jail-free card with its ruling, but my idea was for him to go on TV and make a speech about raising taxes. The speech would go something like this: “My fellow Nevadans, you elected me partly on a promise not to approve any new taxes. I made this promise to you, but when I took the oath of office I took a promise to lead this state back to greatness. To keep this promise, our state needs its citizens and businesses to make a contribution, that’s why I am supporting a few across-the-board taxes that will save our schools, our roads, our businesses and our most needy citizens from cuts that would hurt them severely. As leaders, we promise to get our spending under control so we might lift these financial burdens as soon as possible. Thank you for your support and understanding.”
One of the reasons I love living in Nevada is the low tax burden, but to maintain the lifestyle I would be willing to pay a few bucks for a short time to keep it a good place to live. If we all did, I am quite certain this mess would end sooner rather than later.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go calculate my use tax.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.