It's mere chance that brings me to write about the unlikely possibility of legalizing prostitution on the same day the state legislators gathered in Carson City to commence the 75th session of Nevada's lawmaking body.
Given the Legislature's history of, ahem, special interest constituent service, your skepticism about the nature of their true calling is understandable. A Legislature that can't consistently clear the path to provide basic services for the citizenry but has time to embrace tax relief for art-collecting casino billionaires and allows hundreds of millions in property taxes to slip away in the name of "green building" tax breaks for those gaming bosses, is bound to be mistaken for a bunch of brothel workers on occasion.
The question facing us today is: Will our legislators defy the historical stereotype and break with tradition this time? Will they acknowledge the genuine need and address complex issues with alacrity and a greater sense of purpose?
Or will they squabble and delay and practice the petty political games that have become the Legislature's trademark?
Which brings me back to all the stories published recently about the idea of legalizing prostitution as a way of generating tax revenue. To no one's surprise, Mayor Oscar Goodman has had the audacity to suggest such a thing. (He's been suggesting it for a decade now.) He quotes top brothel sources -- and one cannot doubt he has only the very best brothel sources at his disposal -- who contend legalizing prostitution could annually generate upward of $200 million. State Sen. Bob Coffin, the veteran Democrat, recently said the time was right to consider all potential revenue streams. (Prostitution is illegal in Clark County, and under state law can only be practiced legally in counties with a population lower than 400,000.)
Some trying to sell the idea might liken it to the hotel room tax, which is paid mostly by tourists. Perhaps its promoters will take to calling it the "Womb Tax."
Others have said organizing the prostitutes and centralizing them in one area could be good for society. (Yes, that's why the world is flocking to Pahrump -- because of all the good that legalized brothels have done for Nye County.)
So much media has been devoted to the subject I am left to wonder whether we shouldn't just accept our fate. Perhaps those high-minded legislators who dream of a better Nevada that doesn't come in behind Guatemala when it comes to social services, should refrain from doing the heavy intellectual lifting necessary to expand the state's tax structure, and simply "broaden" it instead.
Not that I endorse legalizing prostitution for the purpose of taxation. It's about as morally backward an idea as I've heard. It's the depth of desperation -- even in a recession.
It's ethically bankrupt, a real sellout in a state whose lawmakers, with a few exceptions, haven't mustered the collective will to tax businesses and banks and big mining. Big casino companies, who love to bray about how much they pay into state coffers, pay far more gaming taxes by percentage once they set foot outside Nevada.
Inside Nevada, Gov. Jim Gibbons vows to veto any tax increase that crosses his desk. Legislative Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley chief among them, have been quick to vilify Nevada's easily vilified chief executive but have yet to unveil their own vision. The longer they wait, the closer they come to maintaining the sorrowful status quo.
Short of real change forwarded by effective political leaders, you have this bad Jay Leno joke in the form of a whore tax.
Were it to come to pass, I can almost see it now. In order to ensure regulatory compliance and collection, legislators would create the State Brothel Control Board and Nevada Brothel Commission.
Hey, pal, if you think you have performance anxiety now, wait until you look over your shoulder and see a steely-eyed Brothel Control Board accountant doing an impromptu audit.
It's outrageous, right? Never happen, right?
Now answer this question: Which do you think is more likely, the Legislature passing some tramp tax stamp, or actually addressing the tax structure in this state?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
Given our history of political flat-backing, the only surprise is that the Legislature didn't think of this prostitution tax thing decades ago.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith/.