A sort of happy ending

The rainstorm had passed, leaving the shores of Sand Harbor damp and cool, smelling of sage and pine. The power was out on Tuesday, July 22, as we arrived to drink a few sweet glasses of wine before the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sand Harbor is one of the most popular state parks in Nevada, with good reason. It’s lovely and serene and as fine an example of what’s right with our state government as I could imagine on this thunderous historic Tuesday, the day the Nevada State Legislature finally compromised on a budget-tax package—albeit one with a cryptic new payroll tax.

The post-legislative debriefings and legal-opinion seeking began immediately. Rogue Republicans (aka the “Mean 15,” minus one adorable old compromising Assemblyman John Marvel, who represents me in east Sparks and all of Battle Mountain, too) continue to spin themselves as anti-tax revolutionaries. These folks think you’re going to vote for them because they wasted a cool million or so in forced special sessions while refusing to consider compromise.

But, ah, victory—or some approximation thereof. In Reno, victory looks like this: The schools have to cut only $6 million from the budget instead of $26 million. So we’re packing more kids in classrooms (read: not hiring needed teachers to deal with increasing student loads) and deferring the purchase of even more textbooks. For this, we fought and protested and picketed. For this, members of a local culinary union passed out red T-shirts with the words “Make Wal-Mart Pay for Our Schools” in front of the federal courthouse during a hearing on the Nevada Supreme Court’s decision to throw out part of the state constitution.

What an ugly, nightmarish mess.

What a wonderful entertaining play The Merry Wives is. Corrupt con-man preys on not-so-hapless married women. Schemes and back-stabbing and plans for revenge. The power came back on just in time for the sun’s descent over the lake. Tar, feathers and a happy ending all around.

In California, the budget tragedy continues. Though Nevada’s Mean 14 warn people that our fair state is becoming “just like California,” as if that were the worst of all possible indictments, I think the reverse may be true. California’s strong anti-tax Republican contingent is actually gaining so much strength that folks there are responding to such obvious big-business-backed ploys as a gubernatorial recall. Nevada’s anti-taxers must be drooling.

Every state has a story to tell about deficits and debates, a story that mirrors our own.

Whence stems this national anti-tax sentiment?

Well, as the Nevada Legislature went into overtime in June, locals began getting mailers from such national organizations as the Citizens for a Sound Economy. Sounds like a great grassroots effort, eh? And any group claiming the rhetorically loaded word “citizens” must be of the people! For the people! By the people! And besides, George W. himself endorsed CSE as a group that “does a great job all over the country educating people.”

But far from being a low-budget group of activists, Citizens for a Sound Economy is funded by such itty-bitty grassroots organizations as General Electric and Exxon. It’s been called a “fig leaf for corporate lobbying efforts.” The group once received a cool million from Philip Morris to fight against cigarette taxes, according to reports by Public Citizen and People for the American Way, and another $1 million from U.S. West when telephone deregulation was under consideration.

Our nation is a democracy under the corporate thumb. They will own us. We have only our apathy and consumer appetites to blame.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying our roads and schools and state parks. While they last.