The zero-based tax initiative


Expanded from the 12-13-98 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

ANGRY TAXPAYERS: Settle down, take a deep breath. Read how to productively re-direct your righteous rage.

For many years, I have carped and complained about the increasing unfairness of Nevada's tax structure.

I've noted how this is a great place to live if you earn upper-middle class income and have no children. The fortunate few can live well because their tax burden has largely shifted to the lower classes.

In 1984, I ran for congress talking about those issues when no one wanted to listen. That's why I signed on to help Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas in this year's gubernatorial battles. The good senator has long been tilting against the same wealthy windmills.

Republican Gov.-elect Kenny Guinn was propelled to victory by millions from the gambling-industrial complex. His task in office will be to perpetuate the legacy of his Gaming Party predecessor, Democrat Bob Miller: raise taxes and fees on everything but casinos.

Gambling facilitated new taxes on everyone but itself during the 1997 legislative session. The overlords even scored a loophole allowing them to basically print money. They can now deduct from state taxes the face value of lucky bucks and complimentary chips.

Adding insult to injury, Gomorrah South mogul Steve Wynn engineered a multi-million dollar annual tax break for his new art collection at the recently-opened Fellagio.

The artsy freebie takes millions directly from schools. Mr. Wynn is now suing the state after Sen. Neal stopped him from charging children to see the artwork subsidized with their own school funds.

In the 1999 legislature, Neal will introduce a two percent increase on the largest, most obscenely profitable casinos. It stands little chance of passage.

The last tiny rise came in 1987 when Sen. Don Mello, D-Sparks, threatened a statewide initiative unless the industry agreed to a small tax hike. Nevada's gaming industry today still pays the lowest levies in the nation (all federally deductible), but is not satisfied at that.

Organized gambling benefits tremendously from government-imposed corporate welfare. It bleeds all of us daily, but people don't readily notice it.

Reno, Sparks and Las Vegas don't have adequate parks because, contrary to the 1955 fair and recreation law allowing their collection, room taxes have been skimmed for casino advertising and promotion.

Reno, Sparks, Las Vegas and Douglas County have all formed redevelopment districts as a way to shunt property tax money to private business. A huge portion of the property taxes paid by John Ascuaga's Nugget go toward casino-promoting corporate welfare right at the Sparks casino's front door. The entire Victorian Square project and the Syufy Theatres are merely property taxes converted into casino district upgrades.

Meanwhile, firefighting, police, parks, streets and schools go begging. To make up the difference, we pay hidden taxes on many necessities. That's why our gas prices are usually far higher than the rest of the country.

Everything from McDonald's burgers to hearing aids to insurance gets taxed. The shell game has been played so cleverly that people don't know where to focus their anger. The recent increases in Reno-Sparks area property valuations thus present a rare opportunity.

They have brought to boil an already simmeringly angry public. Homeowners are now talking about a Nevada version of California's 1976 Proposition 13 which established the most unfair property tax system in the country. (See "America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?" by Barlett & Steele, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1994, page 319.)

I've got a better idea.

Gov.-elect Guinn hisself unwittingly gave us the answer. He has called for a return to Pres. Jimmy Carter's favorite buzzword, zero-based budgeting, where every government program must re-justify itself from scratch every two years.

The answer for Nevada lies in an initiative mandating zero-based taxing. It would put an end to the corporate welfare which has become a way of life.

Zero-based taxing would wipe out easily-perverted earmarked empires such as redevelopment agencies and convention, airport and transportation authorities. No more shenanigans like sales tax increases for Union Pacific Railroad's downtown Reno casino district trench.

All money would go into one pot. Expenditures would be regularly justified from a zero base every two years. Corporations could apply for welfare only after the needs of the citizens and their governments have been met.

I've already been contacted by substantial contributors interested in taking it to the people. Just the threat of a zero-based taxing initiative can force real change in the upcoming legislative session.

Any takers? Let's go to work.

POWER OF THE PRESS. Kudos to Daily Sparks Tribune muckrakers Willie Albright and Dennis Myers for giving hope to the unceremoniously (and probably illegally) fired Riverboat Hotel-Casino employees.

Albright's exclusive December 1 story (followed up by Myers wearing his TV reporter's hat), has resulted in more than 100 workers forming a committee to fight back. The spontaneous union has retained Reno labor attorney Michael Langton.

The workers are in good hands. Langton and his former partner, Larry Yenko, did the near-impossible earlier this year by successfully winning the reinstatement of two Bently Nevada workers illegally fired during the 1997 national United Parcel Service strike.

Carlene O'Neil of Carson City and Jessica Gomes of Gardnerville were fired merely for asking other employees to sign for UPS parcels during the strike.

The oppressive ownership of Bently Nevada thought it had won when the National Labor Relations Board western regional office upheld the firings.

Teamsters Union Local 533 authorized Langton's firm to file a longshot appeal with the full NLRB in Washington. Their chances of success at that level were less than three percent. Fortunately, the feds found the case of the Bently ladies quite compelling and meritorious.

Gomes and O'Neil won and have received settlements from the company. (For the full story and photos, go to the UPS strike archive and the Barbwires of 3-8 and 3-15-98 and 8-17-97, all in the Barbwire Archive.

Mrs. Gomes and Ms. O'Neil work elsewhere these days. Neither was or is a union member, just like the fired Riverboat workers. Adversity makes people unite and organize toward a common goal. That's the best definition of a union I know.

The Riverboat, owned by one of the richest northern Nevada gambling families, closed without notice on Nov. 30. The company used the passage of Proposition 5, California's Indian gambling initiative, as a rather lame excuse for cutting 375 workers out of two month's pay just before Christmas.

Federal law requires 60 days notice of a major downsizing or closing. Reno's Holiday Hotel paid its workers the full two months, even though it had shut down.

To bring yourself up to speed on the issue, go to the Barbwire 12-2-98 special Internet edition. It contains links to the controlling federal labor law.

Any ex-Riverboat employee interested in joining the legal action should contact attorney Langton's Reno office by phone (775-329-7557) or e-mail.

CROCODILE TEARS DEPT. "Our greatest concern is for our employees," said Riverboat co-owner Bill Douglass in a press release.

I wonder if the gambling gentleman has ever heard the old saying about putting your money where your mouth is. Perhaps lawyer Langton can show him how.

Keep hope alive.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano, a member of CWA Local 9413, is a 30-year Nevadan, editor of and was gubernatorial campaign manager for State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks Tribune since 1988, where an earlier version of the column appeared.

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