Education or bust

Teachers want money for wacky stuff. Like books. And pencil sharpeners. Traditionally, this money has been pursued by fifth-graders running around selling wrapping paper and greeting cards. And don’t forget the ever-popular elementary school bingo tournaments.

Now that those big educational bullies (teachers) are going after Nevada businesses to chip in, things are getting weird.

Last week, a story came along that seemed to say the gambling industry supports the 4 percent business tax proposed by the Nevada State Education Association.

“Does gaming want it? The answer is yes,” said casino lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, as quoted by reporter Jennifer Crowe in the Jan. 11 edition of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

For mere seconds, hearts warmed across the valley.

Then, ouch. The coffee wasn’t done brewing in Reno newsrooms that day before the official gambling spin came hot off the fax machine. The Nevada Resort Association, the lobbying arm of Nevada casinos, issued a press release stating that the industry is “officially neutral” on the state teachers’ union ballot initiative.

Why the mixed message? Well, for starters, casinos are looking for someone, almost anyone, to share a tax burden that’s been shouldered to date mostly by gambling and mining. (Not that they actually want all that money to go toward education. That could “knock the state budget out of whack,” according to NRA President Bill Bible in an RGJ follow-up on Friday.)

But that’s not all. Since the teachers’ union gathered more than 80,000 signatures in support of the broad-based tax, some have suspected that the teachers and gambling were quietly working together to ensure no tax burden would be placed on casinos. Not only did a provision in the initiative exclude other tax proposals during the election, but some predict casinos will fight to be exempt from the tax.

“Expect the state’s largest industry, gaming, to bring out the big guns in this fight,” wrote NRA lobbyist Tom Clark of Syndetic Partners in a January issue of the Tech Alliance’s digital newsletter. “Casinos will argue that they should be exempt because they’ve paid and paved the way thus far.”

The Tech Alliance is an organization dedicated to bringing new high-tech industries to Nevada. The group would oppose any tax increases that might hinder development here of diverse industries.

“Companies moving to Nevada have had it pretty good in the past,” Clark wrote, urging “those who have benefited from this environment to protect it for future companies.”

The Nevada Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of the initiative on Feb. 7. It seems that the new tax could raise more than $150 million specifically earmarked for schools. That’d be terribly unfair, business leaders say, to other programs in the state, especially those facing cut-backs due to looming budget crunches.

So the stage is set for Gov. Kenny Guinn’s upcoming State of the State address. In his speech, the governor might address the billion-dollar budget deficit over the next decade, the business tax issue, pay raises for state employees and balancing the budget—all without raising taxes.

Then again, with so much at stake a year before his expected re-election campaign, his speech may just offer the usual platitudes, like:

“Does that Millennium Scholarship rock, or what?"