First of all, congratulations to my old boss, Bruce Spotleson, who took over as chairman of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce last week.
I worked for Spotleson at the then-independent Las Vegas CityLife newspaper, where I was a staff writer and Bruce was publisher. And I can pay him the highest compliment any writer can pay to his publisher: He left me alone to do my job.
So I know he’ll understand — if not forgive me — if I take issue with a couple of things he said in his installation speech. He specifically targeted The Education Initiative, a teachers union-sponsored 2 percent margins tax that will appear on the 2014 ballot.
“This is a tax that would put some hurt on all types and sizes of business — even those losing money,” Spotleson said. “Not only would it cut into job creation, we feel it could actually create another bump in unemployment. It is dangerous tax policy and not about improving education. We’ve seen no evidence that any of its revenues would in fact even go to education, although that’s how it’s being pitched.”
Yeah, about all that.
First, The Education Initiative would impose its levy only on businesses earning more than $1 million in annual revenue, and only after one of several deductions are taken, including the costs of labor or the costs of goods sold. Its backers estimate about 70 percent of Nevada businesses will not be affected at all by the tax.
Second, the idea the tax would cut into job creation is belied by the evidence — every state that surrounds Nevada has some kind of business tax, and all have lower rates of unemployment than we do.
In fact, Nevada — which currently imposes no tax at all on business income — still leads the nation in unemployment. If a tax was the sole factor determining employment, high-tax California would be empty and Nevada would be bursting at the seams with jobs.
Third, every dollar raised by this tax will be deposited into the state’s school fund. Yes, lawmakers could later take money out of that fund or reduce the amount of general tax revenue they spend on schools if voters approve the tax. But they’d pay a political penalty for doing so, as teachers and the media drew attention to those budget shenanigans. Names would be named.
Oh, and not for nothing, but writing an initiative that forces the Legislature to spend a certain amount of money on education while at the same time creating a new tax to support education would have undoubtedly been attacked — most likely by groups including the chamber! — as a violation of Nevada’s single-subject law.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a defensive position on this tax, and there isn’t time to introduce an alternative,” Spotleson continued. “But our community is working too hard on job creation and diversification for us to simply watch it happen.”
No time? The teachers union has been advocating for a business tax to fund education for more than a decade. A previous effort was scuttled by a lawsuit. A tax backed by then-Gov. Kenny Guinn was rejected by the Legislature in 2003.
Another idea, in 2011, was introduced way too late to be seriously considered. And all during this time, the chamber and other groups have had a simple message: no. They have said no to nearly every single business tax idea, and The Education Initiative is the easily foreseeable result of teachers being continually stymied by business lobbyists.
After asking people at his installation lunch to sign up to oppose The Education Initiative, Spotleson moved on to the next section of his speech, which began with this line: “There is really nothing more important to the Las Vegas Metro Chamber than improving education at all levels.”
Seriously. Well, I know of a great way for the chamber to help schools. It’s called The Education Initiative, see …
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.