When will the political conversation in this state focus on saving money instead of swiping more of it?
There are so many calls for tax increases that even the Democrat-dominated Legislature won’t entertain them all. The tax increases that actually made it into legislation are substantial enough to force families and businesses to cut back even further and weaken this state’s sputtering economic recovery. Yet all are in play, a testament to the power and frequency of the public sector’s demands for more money.
Governments could realize more spending money for their highest-priority programs if they were willing to reform and reinvent themselves. In Carson City, those ideas are either dead, dying or had such little support they never made it to the capital in the first place.
Let’s review all the potential ways you could end up paying higher taxes:
■ In 2014, a 2 percent business margins tax will be on the general election ballot for your consideration. Supporters project the tax would suck some $800 million per year out of an economy that just saw its unemployment rate tick up to 9.7 percent, highest in the nation.
■ Sales, vehicle, payroll and business license tax rates that were supposed to drop in 2011 and this summer are a lock to be extended for at least two more years, if not made permanent. And we might get a new services tax, too.
■ Assembly Bill 496 would allow the Clark County Commission to boost the sales tax rate .15 percentage points, to 8.25 percent, to increase funding for local police forces.
■ Senate Bill 377 would increase the state gasoline tax by 2 cents per gallon per year for 10 years, more than doubling the levy to 37.65 cents by 2023, and Assembly Bill 413 would allow the Clark County Commission to index the county’s 9-cent-per-gallon tax to inflation.
■ Because state law caps growth in property tax bills, lawmakers want to change the way the bills are calculated. Assembly Bill 26 would slow the depreciation of property, cutting the discounts homeowners accrue over time, and Assembly Bill 201 would increase property assessments from 35 percent of taxable value to 45 percent of taxable value.
■ The backers of a domed stadium on the UNLV campus would like a hotel room tax increase to pay for the project.
■ Meanwhile, members of the Clark County Commission are agitating for a property tax increase to cover University Medical Center’s annual $100 million deficits, as well as another one to support other county services. And a ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Nevada Health District could result in a property tax increase to prop up that agency. (Hat tip to Citizen Outreach activist Chuck Muth and Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute for tracking these issues.)
Did I mention that state unemployment taxes already went up this year and that ObamaCare takes effect next year? How much money do these officials think we have?
Economic growth used to be enough to keep government’s big spenders relatively quiet. But in an era of tepid to nonexistent growth, all they can do is call for more and higher taxes. Which inevitably leads to even more and higher taxes. And when the bill comes due for unfunded public employee pensions, we’ll get the bill for the bailout to end all bailouts. Yet pension reform, collective bargaining reform, local government consolidation and prevailing wages are lucky to get a committee hearing.
It’s been more than a decade since the last great Nevada government reform: Gov. Kenny Guinn’s privatization of the state’s workers’ compensation system, which took a $2 billion shortfall off the books and made the insurance cheaper for businesses.
Here’s an idea for lawmakers: Maybe if you made an effort to save taxpayers big money, they might be willing to give you a little more.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Review-Journal editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.
Political columnist Steve Sebelius will return Tuesday.