mirror has two faces and all three show cracks
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has descended upon Reno-Sparks this weekend. All these executive types have to put up with the local luminati doing their level best to paint the prettiest of pictures for the glorified to take home.
Your honors, please allow this humble muckraker to hold up the flip side, the dark side, the underbelly of the beast, the heart, bowels and guts of the High Desert Outback of the American Dream.
WE DON'T CARE FOR KIDS. Any sub-21 scum in downtown Reno after 9:00 p.m. is subject to detention and arrest, unless said scum is going to or from some low-wage casino job. Downtown youth centers get hassled by our casino-oriented police force.
WE DON'T CARE ABOUT EDUCATION. The gambling-industrial complex has
little interest in an educated work force or economic diversification,
which means competition for the low-wage labor pool. Our politicians
perpetuate the myth that well over 50 percent of the state budget is spent
on education. Not true. When the big picture of state revenue is taken into
consideration, the actual figure plummets to just 32.9 percent.
WE DON'T CARE ABOUT ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION. Las Vegas bet all its chips on the military-industrial complex and lost. The Cold War ended and defense contractors had to learn to live with merely outrageous profits rather than the obscene levels to which they had become accustomed. Northern Nevada has done a bit better, but Nevada is still a company town.
WE PAY LOUSY WAGES. Northern Nevada economic development ads have long touted a "union free" environment. That's far from true, but unionization has been on a long downward slide in the north. Ironically, unionization in the American west started more than a century ago in Virginia City, Nevada, during the heyday of the fabled Comstock Lode.
In 1927, four years before gambling was legalized, the Reno Chamber of Commerce published a book commemorating the completion of the transcontinental highway through Reno.
Transcontinental Highways Exposition took place at Idlewild Park
on the Truckee River in Reno. The California pavilion became the durable
California Building which still serves the public today.
"Labor conditions in Reno are ideal...strikes are unknown...all trades in Reno are on a union basis," the book touted. "The cost of living in Reno is about on a par with general conditions in the Middle West and Western communities, and the average scale of wages in the trades is as high as any city in America...If you desire to build, you will find property at reasonable prices compared with other cities."
Times have indeed changed. The northern Nevada casino industry pretty much rid itself of union labor 25 years ago. Many families today live in rabbit warrens. Should any member lose one of the household's multiple minimum wage jobs, all face eviction. Our low cost housing comes in the form of expensive, weekly motels. Without enough unions to keep wage levels up, even full time work leaves people hungry.
PEOPLE DON'T GET ENOUGH TO EAT. In 1993, Kevin Day, director of Catholic Community Services, noted an increasing number of full time casino workers showing up for meals at St. Vincent's Dining Room in downtown Reno.
"At this very moment, St. Vincent's is handling dozens and dozens of casino workers daily," he said.
"People work hard and still can't provide for their families," said human services activist Sheila Leslie, now a Democratic state assembly candidate.
"It's the American myth in 1994 that people willing to work can provide the basics, pull themselves up by their bootstraps," Leslie noted.
Recent news reports have shown Nevada community food banks, like those across the nation, running out of supplies as demand increases. The poor are left to illness, their children to malnutrition, all in the name of welfare reform. But don't get me wrong...
WE BELIEVE IN GENEROUS WELFARE PROGRAMS as long as they subsidize large, super-profitable corporations. Nevada's major industries buy the political clout they need to force the public to subsidize them. This is part of a long tradition dating back to our archaic mining laws which allow foreign corporations to exploit our resources while escaping taxation.
Our gambling industry basically operates tax-free, its nominal tax rate the lowest in the U.S. The paltry levies paid all become fully deductible expenses on federal tax returns.
This heavily subsidized welfare queen can thus easily afford to export her "product" to your town. We further underwrite the gamblers by paying for many government services with high sales taxes, further eroding the wages of the least among us.
Casinos also control use of room taxes, almost all of which go toward casino promotion rather than the parks and recreation intended by the legislature.
OUR LOW COST HOUSING IS OLD MOTELS. Behold the automatically fired, people consistently canned one day before probationary periods expire, after which they might have qualified for health benefits or a small raise. This is the normal course of business in this fire-at-will state.
Our teen pregnancy, suicide, addiction and dropout rates all proceed from such desperate living conditions.
I'll bet no one offered you a tour of Reno's E. Fourth Street, where a second generation of motel children now grows up with a needle-strewn blacktop for a playground and a convenience store as the only inconveniently expensive source of groceries.
American mayors, please judge us. Make us your standard. Many of you have or want some form of gambling, better known as voluntary taxation of the great unwashed.
Beware. Look at Nevada and learn. Proceed at your peril.
Be well. Raise hell.