As sure as the sun rises in the East, the local teachers union is back clanging the tin cups.
On Tuesday, officials with the Clark County Education Association announced they will raise member dues to finance as many as two potential ballot initiatives asking voters in 2022 to raise taxes by $1 billion a year to fund education. The move comes just four years after Nevada lawmakers in 2015 approved a $750 million annual package of new and higher levies — the largest tax increase in state history so far — for the public schools. And it comes just two years after a new lucrative revenue stream from the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana boosted education budgets.
But it’s never enough.
Union executive director John Vellardita was strategically coy about the proposal. No word on where the $1 billion would come from or how the pot of gold would be distributed. Can the taxpayers expect the state’s dismal academic rankings to improve once school districts reap the benefits? Crickets.
This is by design. Accountability is to the education establishment what sunlight is to vampires. The union proposal at this point is a political tactic intended to provide cover for Gov. Steve Sisolak and majority Democrats in the Legislature. But it’s more likely to promote inaction, as Democratic lawmakers punt to the voters rather than hand minority Republicans a potential election issue by promoting a massive tax hike.
In addition, by leaving the details of the proposed tax hikes to be determined, union officials send a clear message to various interests, including the business community, the gaming industry and property owners: If you don’t RSVP to the banquet, you’ll likely be among the entrees. It’s a tried-and-true tactic. Twelve years ago, education unions threatened to qualify a gaming tax increase for the ballot, only to back off when the state’s most powerful industry offered up the room tax instead.
Finally, the union approach carries considerable risk. Qualifying an initiative is one thing. Getting it passed is another. The last time a tax hike for education appeared on the ballot, it failed miserably. More than 78 percent of Nevada voters in 2014 rejected the creation of a tax on business gross revenue in order to raise more money for state schools. The idea that a massive union ad blitz in favor of higher taxes will carry the day eight years later might be wishful thinking.
Perhaps that’s because many voters realize that previous tax increases have done little to lift Nevada when it comes to student achievement — and that even if the union’s campaign were to succeed, it would soon be back again, hat in hand, looking for more. Because it’s never enough — and it never will be.