It started me toting up all the fine folks I know who have recently decided to get out of Dodge. I was shocked to find I have a long personal list of expatriate union workers, professionals, merchants, healers and hellraisers.
In a 1982 speech at the appropriately named Depression Deli, I warned that Nevada would come to a crossroads where we would be forced to choose to move forward or revert to our wild west reputation — that of a boomtown mining camp, albeit with neon tubing and indoor plumbing. We narrowly dodged the recessionary bullets of 1991 and 2003, but not this time.
The decisions made by Republican Gov. Jim the Dim and the 2009 legislative session will kill people. We always balance the budget on the backs of the physically and mentally disabled. This time, the weak have had company. Consumers, students, workers and retirees have likewise been thrown to the wolves of desperation.
Lawmakers have once again placed a leaky Band-Aid on a gushing gunshot wound. Washoe County Republican Sens. Randolph Townsend and Bill Raggio have made sure that this year’s legislative tax fight will be fought again in 2011 or perhaps sooner. Our next Legislature will truly be green, but not the good kind. Perhaps one in three will be freshmen charged with both reapportioning legislative and congressional districts as well as re-fighting the budget wars of 2003 and 2009.
They may also confront the results of several initiatives, petitions to truly tax mining for the first time since statehood, to repeal term limits and perhaps impose a corporate profits tax.
Mining pulled a pre-emptive strike on fair taxation in 1989 when the industry convinced compliant lawmakers to order a special election to place a “net proceeds” tax in the Nevada Constitution. The inimitable Travus T. Hipp saw right through it, calling it Hollywood accounting where there’s never a net. In many years, Nevada’s foreign-owned mining industry has paid zero. Only Travus and I sounded the alarm on our radio shows and print columns, but the promise of a trickle of new money seduced Nevada unions to support the subterfuge and it passed.
In order to win a veto-proof supermajority for this year’s tax and budget plan, Republican Sens. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, and Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, extracted a price: no mining tax deduction loopholes would be closed. McGinness still voted against the final deal.
The gambling industry, as always, pleads poverty. Indeed, Nevada has a decreasing share of a decreasing market, the latter day equivalent of buggy whips.
Our three principal employers, gambling, mining and the federal government, are all in a slump.
The state motto might be up for revision, perhaps “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
The gambling industry has never had much interest in educating our work force. They apparently don’t think they need one. They have consistently paid the lowest taxes in the world and invested their huge Nevada profits in other markets to compete with us. The feds and the miners are likewise extractive industries, both taking far more than they give.
So what to do?
First, forget green energy. It’s a decade away if speculators and politicians don’t royally screw it up beforehand. Casino moguls have provided a preview. They more than got back the new taxes imposed on them in 2003. They scored a green energy bill in 2005 that actually subsidized their massive Las Vegas Strip construction projects. In the same year, Gov. Dudley Do-Right’s ill-advised $300 million tax rebate was largely gambled away.
So how do we get through the next two years? Perhaps we need to crash and burn before the phoenix can rise anew. Our chronic underfunding of education may spawn major litigation resulting in a federal judge running the majority of state government. Fine by me. He or she can’t do any worse than our elected officials of the past few decades.
If not green energy, then what? Ironically, Gov. Jim the Dim gave me an idea. Erroneously as usual, he asserted that Nevada offers the lowest college tuition in the country. But why not?
Let’s develop and sell a pilot program of massive college construction and expansion. Make education available to anyone who wants it. Make tuition competitive and put adequate resources behind recruiting students worldwide.
How do we fund it? Redirect the hundreds of millions of corporate welfare dollars we annually give gambling and other profitable businesses. Tax mining. Aggressively promote the concept in every corner of the state. Educate our public on the value of education and the economic blessings which it can bestow.
There are models for such success. Silicon Valley is one, India provides another. India’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), pushed through a massive program of technical education, which is why the subcontinent has provided so many of the professors, engineers and doctors you have met in this country.
I want to see a 21st century Nevada boomtown of available and affordable education rise beside our 19th century dinosaurs devoted to the lewd and lascivious lower vices.
A populist messiah must come forward to advocate such a new vision. I intend to raise the question to see who’s up to the challenge.
The annual Reno-Sparks NAACP Freedom Fund Awards Banquet is coming up on June 13 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. The venerable civil rights organization celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Call me for tickets and sponsorship info or go to RenoSparksNAACP.org
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, member of Sparks-based Communications Workers of America Local 9413/AFL-CIO, political action chair and webmaster of NAACP Reno-Sparks Branch 1112, producer of the César Chávez celebration and editor of NevadaLabor.com. As always, his comments are strictly his own. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.