This greedy kettle has a question for the pot


People who live behind glass television screens shouldn't throw stones.

This past Monday, Perry Rogers, the son of KVBC-TV, Channel 3 owner and state university Chancellor Jim Rogers, took it upon himself to upbraid the Review-Journal in an editorial that was aired a couple of times that day.

"The Review-Journal has consistently taken the position that all proposed new taxes are unnecessary, and that regardless of how much our community's infrastructure is strained we shouldn't contribute another penny toward our own needs," Rogers opined.

"Now, let me give you the reality. The Review-Journal doesn't pay their fair share in taxes."

Now there is a damnable indictment if ever there was one. As though taking every tax deduction the law allows is not a time-honored American tradition. Someone apparently whispered in his ear that all newspapers in Nevada don't pay sales taxes on the ink and paper used to create them.

"Of course, the R-J will counter with the claim that they need this special exemption so that the citizens of Clark County can enjoy the benefit of the news that they deliver," Rogers suggested. "Well, this station along with several others, delivers the news to Clark County, and we pay sales tax on all of our supplies. That is our responsibility."

He then made the time-worn allegation that this unfair windfall -- tantamount to snatching pennies from the eyes of the dead -- contributes to the newspaper's obscene profits, which are shipped in bushel baskets to the company's owners to pay Arkansas taxes instead of Nevada taxes.

That's right, if the owners lived in Nevada, they'd have to pay our state income tax. Oh, but Jim Rogers hasn't yet been able create one.

Yes, newspapers are exempt from sales taxes on ink and paper. That was written into the law when it was created in 1955, along with many other exemptions. Today, sales tax exemptions include food, medicine, textbooks, farm equipment, motor fuel, natural gas, electricity, water, aircraft, mobile homes and more.

Does the Review-Journal pay its "fair share" of Nevada taxes? Let's see, we pay sales taxes on everything else the company purchases. We pay property taxes. A quick check of the county assessor records reveals the property and buildings and presses belonging to the Review-Journal on Bonanza Road are worth five times Channel 3's headquarters on Foremaster Lane, and thus five times as much in property tax.

We also pay the state payroll and unemployment taxes on our more than 800 employees. Then those employees -- not to mention the 800 independent contractors who deliver the paper -- pay property, sales, alcohol, cigarette, insurance premium, gasoline and vehicle registration taxes. To name a few.

As for sending money out of state, the school of journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno is named for the Review-Journal's late owner, Donald W. Reynolds, in honor of his generous contributions. The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation has contributed to the downtown performing arts center, the local ballet company, a geriatric program, UNLV and worthy causes too numerous to mention.

The James E. Rogers College of Law. on the other hand, is in Arizona.

Perry Rogers concluded his diatribe thusly: "This is a tough time for Nevada, and as you know the governor is calling for serious cuts in the state's budget. Meanwhile, the state of Nevada is not collecting revenue that it could because of this exemption. I encourage the R-J to explain to all of us why it should be entitled to be the beneficiary of what amounts to a welfare program for the rich."

If one were to remove all sales tax exemptions, there certainly would be more money to spend in Carson City, and less money in the pockets of consumers who would have to pay higher prices for goods and services. Economists call that redistribution.

The sales tax laws have changed over the years and can be changed again. In 1970, the voters amended the provision of the law that includes the exemption on newspaper ingredients. The exemption for magazines was taken away, the exemption for newspapers remained, and an exemption for medicine was added.

Our lawmakers amended the law again in 1993 to spell out another sales tax exemption. Minutes from the Senate hearing on the bill in question note that lobbyist Sam McMullen and Janet Rogers -- then executive vice president of the Nevada Broadcasters Association and at one time the wife of Jim Rogers -- testified in favor of a bill that "clarified that transmission of radio and television signals and sale of air time are not taxable transactions."

Excuse me. The kettle has a question for the pot: Can you explain?

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes on the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com.

 

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