A perpetual tax-and-spend cycle

The U.S. Census Bureau -- hardly a partisan outfit -- has issued some new numbers showing what happened to Nevada tax revenue from 2002 to 2007.

It more than doubled.

Between 2002 and 2007, Nevada revenue growth was driven both by an increase in sales tax revenue from higher personal spending levels and from new taxes or tax increases enacted in 2003.

During those giddy days, did the Legislature show some reasonable restraint, refraining from creating costly new bureaucracies that would wheeze for more money like sucking wounds when the inevitable slowdown hit?

No. Even though total state revenue grew by 106 percent, outpacing Nevada's population growth as well as the national rate for increases in state government revenue, Nevada's dizzy delegates spent it all, like kids handed their first credit cards at the shopping mall.

Geoff Lawrence, a fiscal analyst for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, said the figures show lawmakers use economic downturns as an excuse to raise taxes instead of cut spending.

"Like many states, Nevada is in this perpetual tax-and-spend cycle," Mr. Lawrence told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "If lawmakers are unable to exercise restraint in instituting new programs during the boom years, then they're always going to face this type of fiscal crisis when a recession does occur."

Asked if lawmakers spent too much during the boom years, Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, told the Gazette-Journal this week it was difficult not to use the extra money in a state that "spends little" on its social programs.

"Why wouldn't you want to improve on what you believe is negligence in some cases?" she asked.

Oh, please. The federal government mandates individual and family income levels below which the states must provide residents with free health care and other socialized "benefits." Then, Carson City lawmakers regularly vote, every session, to provide those services to residents making as much as 20 percent more than the required cut-off levels.

How much elective wealth transference to the poor would Ms. Smith and her ilk consider "enough"?

"You have to look at the environment and how different things were during those years, in an extreme sort of way," Ms. Smith told the Gazette-Journal. "When you're paying less than $100 a night now for a top hotel in Las Vegas, that changes everything."

So ... legislative Democrats will now reduce state spending to whatever levels prevailed the last time "top hotel rooms" averaged less than $100 in Las Vegas -- closing down any new government programs or bureaucracies created since that date?

Don't hold your breath.

Lawmakers rarely don padded red velvet suits and fake white whiskers, explaining that they're "running for Santa Claus." Time to remind them Carson City is not the North Pole, and we are running seriously short of industrious elves willing to spend all year replenishing all the stuff these folks feel like giving away.