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EDITORIAL: Clark County and the great temporary tax ruse

Updated September 9, 2019 - 11:56 pm

The Clark County Commission last week unwittingly exposed one of the scams of modern liberal governance: the “temporary” tax ruse.

Last Tuesday, the board, comprised of all Democrats, voted 5-2 to raise the sales tax by one-eighth of a percentage point to 8.375 percent. Analysts project the move — enabled by timorous Democratic lawmakers in Carson City who punted on the issue — will raise $54 million a year. While the commissioners have yet to determine where they’ll direct the windfall, expect the school district to reap much of the benefit.

Overshadowed by the decision, however, was a second tax debate in front of the commission that same day.

Back in 1998, a majority of Clark County voters backed an advisory ballot question asking if they favored a higher sales tax to pay for local water and infrastructure improvements. State lawmakers used the vote to justify imposing a quarter percentage point increase in the sales tax, and the levy has so far generated $1.4 billion. The tax is set to expire after 25 years or once it has brought in $2.3 billion.

But any poor sap who thought a Nevada government body would allow such a lucrative stream of other people’s money to go “poof” needs to brush up on Silver State civics.

Sure enough, the commissioners last Tuesday voted 6-1 to put the kibosh on the sunset. The water and sewer infrastructure tax presented to voters two decades ago as “temporary” is now etched in stone.

All this is in keeping with the sorry and predictable history of “temporary” taxes in Nevada. In order to gain support for these money grabs, the sponsors cynically insert sunset provisions, chuckling with the knowledge that it will be a cold day in Hades before the spigot ever goes dry. This ploy even allows the tax-and-spend crowd to employ the disingenuous fib that they’re not really raising taxes, they’re simply leaving rates at current levels.

This is precisely the poppycock that Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative Democrats trotted out earlier this year when they extended the modified business tax without the constitutionally required two-thirds vote. That matter is currently being litigated. Ignoring sunset provisions in various “temporary” taxes was also an integral part of former GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

At the very least, voter approval should be required to eliminate the phase-out of any tax presented to the electorate as “temporary.” But there’s a larger lesson. Any elected official who votes for a tax hike on the basis of a “sunset” provision is complicit in this duplicitous charade. And voters should view any initiative seeking to impose a “temporary” tax as the sham that history proves it to be.

This bait-and-switch scheme has become a standard tactic in Nevada politics. Yet it remains a great mystery to the state’s elected elites why trust in our political institutions continues to erode.

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