RENO – Political activists unveiled a billboard Thursday morning on South Virginia Street urging members of Congress to end tax breaks for the oil and gas industry in order to offset proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.
“We think if you have a choice, it should be with Nevada seniors,” said Erin Neff, executive director of ProgressNow Nevada, a nonprofit liberal advocacy network.
The billboard reads, “Big Oil Tax Breaks vs. Medicare For Grandma,” and is accompanied by a picture of a weary looking senior citizen juxtaposed with a graphic that reports $67.4 billion in profits for the oil and gas industry in 2011, thus far.
The billboard is located at the intersection of South Virginia Street and Hillcrest Drive, adjacent to a Shell gas station, which is no coincidence.
Activists are hoping to get the best bang for their buck at that location — the billboard cost $2,300 — where the billboard will stay up for one month.
Neff acknowledged that eliminating subsidies for the world’s biggest oil producers would only produce a drop in the bucket in terms of reducing proposed cuts to entitlements or making a down payment on the nation’s debt, but she believes it marks a crucial starting point in broad-based, long-term fiscal reform.
“We have got to get our hands around these things,” Neff said.
Mario de la Rosa, an organizer with the nonprofit Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, is worried that entitlement spending will be slashed, compromising services and funds for vulnerable populations.
“Thousands of people are going to be affected,” he said, adding that his friend can only care for her child, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, with Medicaid support.
Kyle Davis, political and policy director with the Nevada Conservation League & Education Fund, said ending tax breaks for the oil and gas industry is not only necessary to limit entitlement cuts but also because it makes for sound energy policy.
Shifting those subsidies to the renewable energy industry would have benefits for the environment, particularly in Nevada, where the green energy market is robust, Davis said.
He added that doing so could create needed jobs in the Silver State.
Neff said ending the tax breaks is a non-partisan issue in a time when partisan politics appear to dominate Washington.
“I hear Tea Party people talking about ending corporate handouts,” she added.
Neff believes people can rally behind the cause because they’re already feeling the pinch at the gas pump.
In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, it became clear that politicians and government agencies were in bed with oil and gas producers. A Wall Street Journal article published May 7, 2010, reports that the Minerals Management Service, charged with overseeing offshore drilling, had actually ceded responsibility for writing and implementing safety regulations to the oil industry.
It comes as little surprise then that de la Rosa is concerned about influence peddling.
“They are being protected by these politicians,” he said of the oil and gas industry.