Mark Twain once said, "No man’s life, liberty or property is safe when the legislature is in session."
This quote has certainly stood the test of time.
While the generalization tends to be true, it’s important to recognize that not every legislative body is equally bad. For example, the U.S. Congress is, in my opinion, the worst, and its abysmal approval rating is well-deserved. The so-called "professional" full-time state legislatures, with their sweet salaries, benefits, perks and pensions are not far behind the Congress in their uselessness.
On the other hand, part-time citizen legislatures, such as Nevada’s, have the ability to pleasantly surprise occasionally. For example, the 2005 Nevada Legislature capped property tax growth in the face of an insane real estate market that was treating home buying like trading dot-com stocks. The caps prevented homeowners from being hit with property tax increases of 100, 200 or 300 percent. The real estate bust has been brutal for everyone but, both going up and coming down, property taxes have played no serious role in whether or not people could keep their homes.
But what about the 2011 Legislature? When you hear legislators, including those in leadership, babble "everything is on the table," when you read comments from certain local officials who say we don’t need the caps anymore, when you see multiple bill draft requests relating to property taxes, then you have to wonder what revenue-hungry legislators are plotting.
The property tax is one of the most regressive of all taxes. Unless the 2011 Legislature wants open rebellion, the tax caps should be "off the table" long before the opening gavel falls.
Make no mistake. The Nevada Legislature is riddled with the same kind of nonsense that plagues every legislative body. But, because it is relatively small, meets only biennially, is citizen-run and is as open and accessible as any legislature in the country, we are much better off than people living under the oppression of "professional" legislatures.
The divisions within the 2011 Legislature reflect the divisions within ourselves. One party controls both houses but not by enough to be able to just ram through anything they want. The governorship, with its veto power, was won by the other party. And, of course, both parties must live with our two-thirds majority requirement to increase taxes.
Speaking of taxes.
While a vigorous and passionate debate about taxation is perfectly legitimate, there is a major caveat: Taxes should not even be brought up until the Legislature deals with the runaway cost of government. The excessive salaries, benefits, pensions and the multibillion-dollar unfunded liabilities that are a crushing dead weight on Nevada’s private sector are well-documented and need not be rehashed here. No legislator should even consider talking taxes until a major restructuring of the government compensation system has been accomplished. That especially applies to legislators who are government employees, retired government employees and spouses of government employees whose conflict of interest in this area is overwhelming.
As for taxes themselves, there are only two things you need to know to be a tax expert:
1. Do not tax the necessities of life.
2. "… the profits of merchants are a subject not taxable directly … the final payment of all such taxes must fall, with a considerable overcharge, upon the consumers."
Both precepts are from Adam Smith’s "Wealth of Nations."
Do you get it? Once you do, you will never fall victim to the regressive statists and their constant drumbeat that Nevada’s tax system is "broken and inadequate" and we need a "stable, broad-based tax system that makes businesses pay their share."
By the way, have you noticed how many powerful and obscenely rich people are pushing the regressive statist business tax nonsense? Have you wondered why? Now you know. They aren’t going to pay. You are!
If the legislators betray us and impose a business tax these multi-multi-millionaires know full well that in five years they will be 10s upon 10s of millions of dollars richer than they are now, while the people of Nevada will be trapped in a stagnated or even lower standard of living. A business tax win for the regressive statists and the crony capitalists who profit most from their policies will be a major loss for everyone else.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The mess we are in has been made by human beings and what humans foul up they can fix.
That’s the challenge facing the 2011 Legislature. Tough to do? Obviously. Impossible? Absolutely not.
As citizens, all we can do is offer our legislators and our governor our best ideas and hope they can find, in the words of President Lincoln, "the better angels of our nature."
Knight Allen is a Las Vegas retiree.This is the latest in an occasional series in which community leaders offer state lawmakers their perspectives on the priorities of the 2011 legislative session, which begins next month in Carson City.