Hell freezes over on the Ides of May

Expanded from the 5-18-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

HELL FREEZES OVER. Last Thursday, Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, voted AGAINST raising Nevada's lowest-in-the-world gross gaming tax. A state senate taxation committee caught everyone but Sen. Neal's diehards by surprise by voting to raise a wide range of taxes by $730 million in one swell foop. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, I sent an e-mail to populist diehards around the state. I advised that they hit the senate taxation committee hard because I sensed unscheduled surprises.

Gambling industry lobbyists were caught absolutely flat-footed when the committee started its voting. Although the five Republicans and two Democrats did not raise the gaming tax as high as Sen. Neal advocated, they did hike the levy to double what the gambling industry said it would accept. Four conservative Republicans voted to raise the tax on the largest casinos by one half of one percent on the monthly casino win over $1 million. Neal voted no because he saw the half-percent hike as pocket change when the same committee raised property taxes by four percent. (Sens. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, and Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, also voted against it.)

The hearing was absolute proof of the reduced power of Nevada's largest industry in this legislative session. It was amusing.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT. On his Friday evening statewide PBS affiliate television progam, my Tribune colleague in columny Dennis Myers reported that the senate tax committee had received a lot of pro-gaming tax e-mail. (I did not inform him or anyone not on the diehard list of my late night Paul Revere act.) Mr. Myers did bring to my attention an overlooked section of the Nevada Constitution.

Article 4, section 15, reads "The meetings of all legislative committees must be open to the public." The only exception allowed is the usual one regarding personnel matters or personal competence.

This begs the following Jeopardy answer: "What is 'when legislative leadership forms a nameless assembly-senate committee to meet in secret to cut a tax deal.'"

The correct Jeopardy question: "When is a committee not a committee?"

House and senate bosses formed a nameless joint body to violate the spirit if not the letter of the law to secretly raise your taxes. At one point, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, engaged in a one-hour shouting match over spending priorities. But the public will never know the details because the lawmakers decided to include you out. There is justice in the world. The questionably legal meetings made no progress and led to the Thursday tax hikes.

ADVERTISING MAKES IT HAPPEN. The big casinos' arrogance was available for all to see in the legislative foyer on Tuesday. A large convention-style display greeted everyone who walked into the building. It carried the same advertising message seen on those wall-to-wall TV spots for the Las Vegas Strip front group called "Nevadans for Tax Fairness." You've probably seen the spots asserting that the gambling industry pays for half the state's budget (actually, it pays nine percent and change), and without a tax hike on the Wal-Marts of the world, prisoners and drug fiends will be let loose in your neighborhood.

I brought up the impropriety of the display to a couple of journalists. By Thursday, the ad language had been taken down but the pretty pictures of Gomorrah South remained.

HITTING ON 21. In its June edition, Harper's Magazine reports that Wal-Mart is the largest employer in 21 states. My old friend Bob Taylor, proprietor of the venerable Shelly's Hardware in Sparks' Greenbrae Shopping Center, has survived the coming of the superstores.

Shelly's, named for the late Carl Shelly, former publisher of this newspaper, prospers because locals supported it when they learned the Rail City institution was in jeopardy. A couple of weeks ago, former Tribune staffer Deidre Pike noted in the Reno News & Review how another Sparks business is managing to make it despite being targeted by another chain gang. Kathleen "K.C." Campbell owns a caffeine kiosk named The Copa in the parking lot of the Convenience Corner Texaco at 295 Sparks Blvd, a few blocks from the newest Starbucks.

The sagas of Shelly's and the Copa gave me an idea: a listing of Sparks-owned and operated small business which deserve our support against the rising tide of multi-national mediocrity. (Are you listening, Tribune editors?)

I have never said don't raise taxes on the likes of Wal-Mart. Just start with the gambling industry, the catalyst for the growth which makes Nevada attractive to the Arkansas vultures and their brethren.

SPEAKING OF BUZZARDS. Charter Communications just raised its rate for basic cable by about 13 percent, roughly four times the rate of inflation. The next meeting of the City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, which I chair, will be held this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at Reno City Hall. It will be cablecast live via SNCAT on Charter Channel 13, with rebroadcasts on the same channel Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Monday, May 26 (Memorial Day) at 5:00 p.m. Show up and make your feelings known or send me your comments at <>

ADIOS, COMPADRE. Longtime local art teacher and Renaissance Man John Iacovelli passed away on the Ides of May. His memorial service will be held today at 1:30 p.m. at Walton's, 875 W. Second in Reno. I got to know him via my erstwhile talk radio show. He kept in touch with new ideas over the years. He was a true credit to his community and the state.

THE LAST ELECTION. The Northern Nevada Central Labor Council has endorsed challenger James Valline over incumbent Sparks Councilman Mike Carrigan, which will make for a spirited contest in the final odd-numbered year city election. Henceforth, municipal balloting will take place in the fall of even-numbered years. Organized labor-endorsed candidates have gone undefeated in the most recent Sparks and Reno elections, so Mr. Carrigan has his work cut out for him.

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Copyright © 1982, 2003, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He is a regular commentator on KRNV TV-4's "Nevada Newsmakers" program. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.



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