The zero-based tax initiative
Expanded from the 12-13-98 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
down, take a deep breath. Read how to productively re-direct your righteous
For many years, I have
carped and complained about the increasing unfairness of Nevada's tax
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Barbano, a member of CWA Local 9413, is a 30-year Nevadan, editor
of NevadaLabor.com 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.