What might have been

Looking back over last week’s State of the State speech and the Democratic response, it occurs to me that perhaps the reason Nevada’s Democrats don’t want to come out strongly for new taxes is that they want to appear to be open-minded.

That could be the reason Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis listed all the groups that he thinks should not pay more in taxes (the middle class, tourists, the resort industry and small business) but failed to list those who he thinks should pay more.

That could be the reason that Democratic leaders steadfastly refuse to say whether they support raising taxes, when even Republican state Senate candidates last year acknowledged they’d vote for higher taxes under the right circumstances.

That could be the reason we see lines like this in Review-Journal stories: "Without saying taxes should be increased, Denis said legislators will examine all state taxes and determine whether changes should be made."

Perhaps Democrats think that if they call for new taxes now, before the 2013 legislative session begins, they’ll be accused of having their minds made up before the debate over the governor’s budget and future state spending even begins.

If that’s the case, allow me to let the cat out of the bag: Democrats totally want to increase taxes.

They want taxes on business, especially big businesses such as retailers. They want taxes on mining companies. They hate that it requires a two-thirds vote to increase taxes, and a constitutional amendment to end the mining industry’s tax cap. And if they had their way – or a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature – they’d raise taxes immediately. Their minds are made up. They want taxes.

And last week, they could have just said so. In fact, they should have just said so.

They could have said that major studies of Nevada’s tax system going back nearly 50 years have concluded that the state needs to broaden its tax base, and that a tax on business is a good way to do it.

They could have countered Gov. Brian Sandoval’s assertion in his State of the State speech that "Nevada employers cannot afford higher taxes." They could have said that many of the national companies that gladly pay state revenue taxes in other states could also pay them here.

They could have countered the tired, worn-out arguments against a business tax – that it will cost us jobs and raise prices – with facts: Our neighboring states have corporate income taxes, and they all enjoy lower unemployment than Nevada. And prices for goods in those states are not appreciably higher than they are here in Nevada, which means we’re not getting a discount on goods because we don’t tax big corporations.

If low or no taxes attracted business, Nevada would be booming and California would be languishing. Instead, it’s the opposite.

Democrats could have said they absolutely want to raise taxes – imposing a business tax, eliminating the mining tax cap and imposing a reasonable levy on minerals extracted from publicly owned land. Why? To address the real reason businesses don’t come to Nevada – our underperforming education system. They could have said they would use the money not just to pay teachers more, although that’s surely part of the solution, but to design a system that would improve graduation rates and workplace-related knowledge. They could have called for an effort to make sure all of Nevada’s public schools – from pre-kindergarten through graduate programs – produce the kind of educated, informed, contributing citizens that businesses need to succeed. They could have said this is the Democratic economic development program, and it doesn’t require a dime of corporate welfare to bribe high-tech firms to set up shop here.

Playing coy over taxes hasn’t ever worked in the past. Perhaps it’s time to try the truth?

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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