Another way to screw workers

Last week on our letters page, a reader suggested that Nevada turn to lotteries to avoid a sales tax increase for education. She seemed to suggest Nevada sign onto the California lottery, or something.

For as long as we can remember, there has been a small Nevada contingent that sees a lottery as a panacea for the state’s money troubles. Our letter writer last week wants a special session of the Nevada Legislature to get a lottery on this year’s November ballot, which cannot be done. Lotteries are against the law and repealing the constitutional prohibition requires approval by two regular legislative sessions and a public vote.

She wrote further, “The argument of how a lottery system would ’hurt’ Nevada’s gambling is just plain hokum.” Perhaps, but something more than a mere assertion that such is true is needed before the state is likely to endanger existing gambling. But that is the least of the concerns with a lottery. For one thing, there have been repeated suggestions that with Nevada’s small customer base—which already avails itself of existing gambling—the money that could come in from a lottery wouldn’t be enough to justify the effort or to pay the administrative costs. After all, it is not from locals that most Nevada casinos make most of their money, and those few that do, like Baldini’s and the Bonanza, would compete with a lottery for customers.

For another and more important thing, the lottery shares the same problem as the sales tax—it drains the pockets of those who can least afford to pay.

“There’s a correlation between those who play the lottery and income,” said Nevada economist Thomas Cargill in 2005, during another of these outbreaks of lottery escapism (“Who should pay?” RN&R, Feb. 10, 2005). “You know, the lottery is a regressive tax on people who are not very good at math. I saw that on a bumper sticker in California. … But the question is, do you want to finance government expenditures, which are supposed to be for the public good, with a regressive tax?”

Both the lottery and the sales tax are a mistake, and the citizens committee that came up with the idea of hiking the sales tax needs to take it back to the drawing board.

The Nevada sales tax has gone from 2.0 percent in 1955 to 6.85 now, plus local government add-ons. It can rise to more than 8 percent. In Washoe it is currently 7.725 percent and far too high.

While the lottery is no alternative, our letter writer and others are not wrong about the sales tax, either. It is only May. The Washoe County School Board must remove the tax hike from the ballot and send it back to the citizens’ committee. Washoe County badly needs a cut, not a hike, in the sales tax.

In case the citizens committee has not heard, the opposition to still another sales tax hike is coming from supporters of public schools themselves, not from traditional tax opponents. What came out of the citizens committee was something that reflected the desires of local businesspeople, not something that reflects the needs of schools.