(Chuck Muth) – Many Republicans, and probably most conservatives, love to loath political columnist, blogger, pundit, TV host, king-of-all-political-media Jon Ralston because they consider him too liberal and too favorable to Democrats.
But any fair-minded person has to admit Jon has chewed plenty of Democrats new ones over the years. And he actually harbors, I suspect, more of a left-leaning libertarian streak than cradle-to-grave socialism.
The guy also possesses an internal Bullsh*t Meter which flushes out full-of-it politicians the way a Geiger counter picks up radiation. And it goes off regardless of party.
All of which is to preface what I’m about to say to my Republican and conservative friends: Go read Jon’s most recent column HERE
Jon believes Nevada’s tax structure – which relies heavily on gaming, tourism and sales taxes – is faulty. Others would disagree with him, noting that a number of other states which do not rely so heavily on such taxes are hurting just as badly. But the issue is decidedly legitimate and both points of view are arguable.
The problem is that Democrats such as Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley have disingenuously used this tax “structure” issue as a Trojan horse to pursue revenue increases, aka tax hikes. And seeing through this political smokescreen and recognizing their true underlying purpose, many fiscal conservatives voice knee-jerk opposition to any such study.
Which leaves Jon to criticize our side AND their side for failing to address both the short-term and long-term budget challenges Nevada faces. “Neither side can assert the moral high ground until it presents details,” he writes, adding that what we’re really looking at are two separate issues which decidedly do not AND SHOULD NOT be addressed at the same time.
“It’s a two-step process,” Jon concludes in his column. “First, fix the system without raising taxes by broadening the tax structure but reducing noisome fees. (Anyone register a car lately?) Then, rigorously debate what services and at what levels government should be funding and tax accordingly. The action should be swift, the discussion robust.”
Amen and hallelujah!!
If that ain’t gubernatorial material, I don’t know what is. Let’s see if any of the current crop of candidates from either party embrace this common-sense campaign platform.
Now for the record and for the umpteenth time: Revenue-neutral tax reform legislation does NOT violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Pledge signers absolutely, positively CAN consider and vote for revenue-neutral tax reform packages which do not raise the overall amount of money going to the government. The operative phrase here is: revenue neutral.
To make this simple enough for even Nathan “Li’l Nate” Taylor to understand, let’s say the current sales tax rate on goods is 8 percent and is currently bringing in $2 million dollars a year. And let’s say it’s proposed that we “broaden” the sales tax to include services – such as auto repairs and dry cleaning. And let’s say, for arguments sake, that people cumulatively spend exactly as much money today buying goods and they do buying services every year.
Now if you simply extend the current 8 percent sales tax to include services, that would result in a doubling of the tax revenue generated and going to the state government. Such a proposal, therefore, would not be revenue neutral and would be a violation of the Tax Pledge.
Should it be proposed that we extend the sales tax to include services BUT cut the tax rate in half to 4 percent on both sales and services, the net increase in tax revenue going to the government would be…zero. Such a tax reform proposal to change the “structure” of Nevada’s tax system would be revenue neutral and would not be a Pledge violation.
Ditto if you, say, impose a tax on prostitution which, say, would bring in a million dollars a year, but at the same time you reduced car registration fees by a million dollars a year.
Now, I’m not saying I’d be in favor of such proposals. I’m just letting everyone know that legislators could vote for such bills without me clamoring that they violated their Tax Pledge – which, by the way, eliminates yet another lame excuse often given by liberal Republicans for not signing it.
And because the economy is in the outhouse right now, THIS is EXACTLY the best time to enact such tax reforms, even if it’s done in a special session. Because, get this: The economy is going to improve. And when it does, tax REVENUES will automatically increase WITHOUT raising tax RATES.
Now let’s move to Jon’s second step.
Big-government legislators, such as Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, throw out the phrase “essential services” in budget debates the way Imelda Marcos used to throw out old shoes (ask your mom, kids). Problem is such legislators never define exactly what constitutes an “essential service.”
Indeed, Sen. Raggio indicated before the last session that he considered the Nevada Arts Council an “essential service.” Clearly limited-government conservatives and starving children would disagree.
And that’s exactly what Jon has called for: A rigorous and robust debate over the proper role of government, what services are essential, how and at what levels they should be funded…and THEN establish the level and means of taxation to fund such essential services.
Is the Office of Diversity at UNLV “essential”? Not. Bye-bye.
Department of Cultural Affairs? Not. Hasta la vista, baby.
$300 million for the class-size reduction program which has never worked as hyped? Not. Adios.
Full-day kindergarten? As Nancy Pelosi would say, “Are you serious?”
The completely unneeded Richard Perkins Memorial College in Henderson? Not. Sayonara.
Dental school at UNLV? Auf Wiedersehen.
Means testing for government programs such as the Guinn Millennium Scholarships. Absolutely
Give parents school vouchers to send kids in overcrowded schools to private schools rather than build new government schools? Yep. Do it.
Reduce the cost of public works projects by ending the prevailing wage welfare subsidy to labor unions, as well as prohibiting project labor agreements? As Sarah Palin would say, you betcha.
Have government workers pay a portion of their health care premiums instead of taxpayers subsidizing them 100 percent? Of course. So let it be written, so let it be done.
You see, “essential government services” are like “pornography.” Politicians will say they know it when they see it….but they never get around to actually defining it.
So AFTER dealing with the tax structure question in a revenue neutral fashion, and BEFORE we can set rates, the Legislature MUST be forced to have this debate and define exactly what constitutes essential services. And THAT’S what the 2010 state campaigns should be all about.
Candidate X says we absolutely, positively have to offer the Culture of Pizza course at UNLV. It’s “essential.” Candidate Y says no, it’s not.
Voters, fully armed with specific positions from the candidates on this spending issue – as specifically as Gov. Jim Gibbons was on the tax hike issue in 2006 – will then decide the direction the state should go. The losers will then get to decide if they want to stay in Nevada…or vote one more time with their feet.
Exactly the way it should be.
Ralston for Governor!
(Full Disclosure: Jon has promised that I can be his Chief-of-Staff position if he’s elected!)