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VICTOR JOECKS: Letter from Nevada Democrats hints at quid pro quo

Even by swampy congressional standards, a letter signed by three Nevada Democrats to a local casino company reeks of demanding quid pro quo.

In May, 13 congressional Democrats sent a letter to Frank Fertitta, chairman of Red Rock Resorts. The signers, including Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, urged Fertitta to “respect the rights of employees at Red Rock Resorts Inc. properties to form a union and collectively bargain.” That seems like little more than another poke in the eye from allies of the Culinary union.

But the letter took an unexpected turn. It started talking about tax policy.

In 2017, Republicans passed tax reform. In their haste — insert joke about “passing the bill to find out what’s in it” here — a drafting error changed the depreciation schedule for certain capital expenditures. Before the bill, companies could depreciate interior remodeling projects over 15 years. After the bill, businesses had to spread those expenses over 39 years.

The letter points out that Red Rock Resorts is seeking to revert that provision to its original form. The company is hardly alone. Hundreds of businesses — including Wendy’s, Best Buy and Target — have asked Congress to make the change. A bill to do just that has 169 co-sponsors. Titus, Lee and Horsford are among the 88 Democrat co-sponsors.

There’s not a policy link between the two issues, but there is a political link. The letter notes that Red Rock Resorts “is currently completing a $690 million renovation of the Palms Casino Hotel.” The drafting error in the new tax law is likely costing Red Rock Resorts tens of millions of dollars.

“We were disappointed, however, to learn that the company has refused to recognize the union at this facility, even after 84 percent of employees voted to form a union,” the letter reads.

The implication is obvious. If you want Congress to fix the tax code, you’d better play nice with Democrats’ political allies in the Culinary.

“Some Las Vegas casino magnates are asking Congress to fix an apparent flub in the tax law. Lawmakers are telling them to bargain with their workers first,” a Huffington Post article on the letter read.

Usually members of Congress are more subtle when seeking quid pro quo.

The letter doesn’t propose a formal corrupt bargain, of course. It’s like a mobster coming to your door and saying, “What a beautiful family. Would be a shame if something happened to them.” It’s obvious there’s a deeper meaning to those words, no matter what wails of protest come later.

“The insinuation of a quid pro quo arrangement is plainly false,” Jackson Wessells, a spokesman for Lee said. A spokesman for Titus called questions about the letter “absurd.” Both said their congresswoman would vote for the tax fix if it came up for a vote.

Neither responded, however, when asked repeatedly for an explanation about why the letter linked the two issues. Horsford’s office didn’t respond to questions.

This is just the latest example of Culinary and its parent organization, Unite Here, using tactics such as this. The union fought for years to keep the UFC out of New York because the Fertitta brothers owned both the nonunion Station Casinos and the mixed-martial arts league. In 2015, Culinary urged the Clark County Commission to stop the UFC from putting a fountain in front of its headquarters. It once drove a convention that was going to stay at a nonunion property out of the state through intimidation.

It’s fine for congressional Democrats to support the Culinary. What’s unacceptable is using their political power to threaten Red Rock Resorts for not acquiescing to union demands.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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