The newspaper tax — once again

At the risk of quintupling the reach of his message, I must take issue with yet another editorial rant from Perry Rogers on his daddy’s television station, KVBC-TV, Channel 3.

File this one under the heading: kicking a dead horse. It is at least his third editorial on the topic, though I might’ve missed a few.

“A few months ago this station did the unthinkable. It offered free airtime to a politician,” Rogers declared on Monday. “The very commodity that politicians work so hard to get, we offered for free. We said that the governor or any state legislator can come on the air so they can explain why the newspaper business should continue to receive a tax break in the state of Nevada and yet no one responded, which proves that this exemption cannot be defended.”

No, it only proves no one gives a darn about your obsession with foisting a tax on a competitor, while ignoring daddy’s tax dodge.

He also completely mischaracterized the sales tax exemption granted by the Legislature and later endorsed in a statewide vote of the people. He claimed that when newspapers purchase “supplies” they pay no sales tax.

The term conjures images of tax-free computers, printer paper, notebooks and pens and pencils, but that is not what the law says at all. The only items newspapers in Nevada may purchase without paying sales taxes are the ingredients that go into creating the actual newspaper — newsprint and ink.

Newspapers pay taxes on everything else, just like any other business.

The concept is one that is applied in many states, in which a manufacturer is not required to pay a sales tax on the parts that will eventually become part of a final product. If a sales tax were collected on the parts that make up the final product, and then the final product is taxed, one would be collecting taxes on taxes.

I will immediately note that the law in Nevada also exempts newspapers from having to collect a sales tax from its purchasers. The exemption is not a tax break for the newspaper, but for its customers. A business doesn’t pay sales tax, it simply collects it for the state.

In their wisdom, lawmakers long ago decided the people of Nevada should not be required to pay sales tax when purchasing food, medicine and news.

Rogers began his scold by noting how much money those same politicians he was lecturing will spend on advertising on his station in an election year, yet he blithely failed to acknowledge a bit of legislative history that I pointed out to him back in December.

In 1993 the Legislature amended the sales tax law to spell out another sales tax exemption. Minutes from the Senate hearing on the bill in question note that lobbyist Janet Rogers — then executive vice president of the Nevada Broadcasters Association and at one time the wife of Perry Rogers’ father, Jim Rogers — testified in favor of a bill that “clarified that transmission of radio and television signals and sale of air time are not taxable transactions.”

So those politicians pay no sales tax on those expensive television commercials, nor on newspaper advertising for that matter, which reaches a much larger audience.

Perry Rogers concludes his upbraiding of all state politicians by saying, “Shame on all of you politicians for being so gutless. Shame on all of us voters for putting you in a position to make any decisions about our lives.”

Now, now, Mr. Rogers, let’s not be so hasty as to tamper with taxes on newspapers. We Americans don’t take lightly to such things. It could lead to all sorts of bother.

Remember the Stamp Act, the tax that was assessed on newspapers, as well as deeds, diplomas, bonds, legal documents and even playing cards — just about anything that could be put on paper.

John Adams later wrote in his diary: “The year 1765 has been the most remarkable year of my life. The enormous engine fabricated by the British Parliament for battering down all the rights and liberties of America, I mean the Stamp Act, has raised and spread through the whole continent a spirit that will be recorded to our honor, with all future generations.”

It all began with a newspaper tax.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at

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