A special tax for everything?

After five years as the hardest-hit state of the Great Recession, Nevadans might expect their 2013 Legislature to be asking what it can do to help the state’s surviving entrepreneurs expand their businesses and create new jobs.

Instead, like careless gardeners trampling their own young seedlings, the motto of both parties in Carson City today could well be “All taxes, all the time.”

A few of these dubious levies have been put out of their misery. But some doozies remain. Take Assembly Bill 403, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Richard “Skip” Daly of Sparks.

Mr. Daly says his home county — Washoe — has not been funding vocational education as well as Clark County, in part because voters there rejected a school bond issue last year. So he introduced AB 403, a piece of enabling legislation that would authorize the Washoe County School District to levy a special tax of $2 per real estate parcel to raise money for vocational training.

But bill drafters — perhaps worried about that pesky requirement that taxes apply statewide — suggested it be broadened to apply in all counties.

Joyce Haldeman, deputy superintendent of Nevada’s largest school district — Clark County — says she doesn’t know whether the district’s trustees would make use of the tax, even if authorized. Mr. Daly estimates the levy could generate $10 million per year for vocational education, at a rate of “$2 per month per acre, or portion thereof” on “each taxable parcel of land” in a county.

This is a bad idea. First, public schools are already funded primarily by local property taxes, which are collected with established procedures for assessments, appeals, and so forth. Mr. Daly’s bill would appear to overlay a new scheme for determining which property owners would pay how much — regardless of assessed valuation — and then require those funds to be earmarked for a single use.

(In fact, his bill would even establish a new committee in each county, including lawmakers appointed by the governor, to oversee allocation of these vocational funds.)

Meantime, property owners could see liens placed on their properties for failing to pay a new tax of $24 per year? Is a lien of that size even worth the cost of collection?

If Mr. Daly is upset that residents of his district didn’t support a new school bond issue, he should go out among them and ask why. It might well be that they believe their school allocations are not giving good value per dollar.

Surely that’s the real problem to be addressed. Otherwise, what’s next? A new dedicated tax with a special new oversight board to fund art classes? Music classes? Girls’ middle-school basketball? Such complex schemes only divide and decrease accountability in a system where the lack of accountability is already critical.

It’s not clear even Mr. Daly expects this thing to pass.

The bill cleared the Assembly on a 23-16 party-line vote, but 28 votes would be required to override a gubernatorial veto. “Let’s see if the governor is willing to veto a bill for vocational education,” Mr. Daly says.

Is that what this is really about? Trying to embarrass Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has vowed to veto any new tax hikes, by making him appear to “come out against vocational education”?

Public education needs comprehensive reform, not this kind of piecemeal meddling.

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