Despite vote on margins tax, problems persist for schools

The people poked the mighty dragon that is the Nevada establishment. And the mighty dragon roared.

And the Nevada establishment won again.

The Education Initiative, or Question 3, was defeated by an overwhelming margin on Tuesday, 79 percent to 21 percent. In terms of real votes, that’s 429,531 people against to 115,915 in favor. It lost in every one of Nevada’s 17 counties; in fact, its high-water mark came here in Clark County, where 23.5 percent of voters said yes.

That’s probably not surprising, given the coalition that came together to oppose it. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Reno, Sparks and Northern Nevada. The Nevada Resort Association. The Nevada Mining Association. The Nevada Restaurant Association. The Nevada Retail Association. The bankers. The Realtors. The car dealers. The doctors. The truckers. The builders.

And let’s not forget labor. The AFL-CIO and the Culinary Union Local 226 came out against the measure, despite the fact that it was proposed and qualified for the ballot by the Nevada State Education Association, the teachers union. It bears repeating — over and over again — that the head of the AFL-CIO, Danny Thompson, as late as last year spoke out in support of the Education Initiative with some very compelling arguments. Sadly, he switched sides and led his union in passing a resolution against the measure this year.

The Coalition to Defeat the Margins Tax Initiative reported raising a total of $5.6 million in cash and in-kind contributions over the course of the campaign, and spending $4.8 million against the measure. TV ads featured a lawyer, a farmer, a hospital CEO and the aforementioned Thompson talking about how the “deeply flawed” measure would have all sorts of negative effects on Nevada’s economy. (If “deeply flawed” was the word in your Nevada election drinking game, you’re probably dead due to acute alcohol toxicity poisoning.)

By contrast, the Education Initiative PAC reported raising $888,204 and spending $1.6 million in support of the doomed measure.

Opponents consistently made apocalyptic predictions about the potential effects of the Education Initiative, and oftentimes exaggerated or selectively interpreted the results of research done on the topic. (Supporters occasionally did the same, it should be noted, but not nearly as often or as loudly.)

When proponents hired the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV to conduct a study of the tax — and that study found the initiative would produce net job growth — the establishment erupted in protest. Casino kings harangued acting UNLV President Don Snyder, even threatening to withhold donations to the university. Snyder, in turn, called for a review of the work by the Brookings Institution. (That review could not be completed before the election, and now won’t be conducted at all because the election results make a review moot, according to Brookings Mountain West Director Rob Lang.)

And let’s not forget the fact that the state’s major newspapers, the Reno Gazette-Journal, the Las Vegas Sun and the Review-Journal, all came out against it. This newspaper was especially vocal in its criticism of the tax.

Combine that with a good Republican voter turnout machine, depressed Democratic turnout and the fact that elected officials of both parties abjured the tax, and you get to almost 80 percent “no” votes.

As one of the few public voices who spoke out in favor of the tax, I stand by every word I wrote in support of the Education Initiative. I still believe the vast majority of the arguments made against the tax were either false or exaggerated. And I still believe the coalition that opposed the initiative would have said anything to defeat any tax that had been proposed. Stripped of pretense, their argument boiled down to this: We don’t want to pay.

And nothing has changed. The schools are every bit as underfunded today as they were Tuesday morning. We still need to build new schools to accommodate students. Schools in poor areas and those with special education and English Language Learners still need extra attention, and funding. If the Education Initiative is not the way to fix the problem, then what is?

We’re still waiting for opponents to answer that question.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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