Fix Nevada’s tax system

Bob Fulkerson is director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. More information about PLAN can be found at

Nevada’s current budget shortfall is a painful reminder that our tax system does not work. The sales/gaming tax revenue that fuels the budget is cyclical and leads to dramatic swings, from $300 million in surplus a few years ago to today’s shortfall of more than $500 million. As a result of this and our state’s bootstraps mentality, we’re looking more like a Third World country than the 16th wealthiest state in the nation.

We used to say Nevada is the Mississippi of the West. Today that statement is an insult to Mississippi. How long are we as a state going to tolerate being the worst or among the worst in funding education, environmental protection or social issues? Leading the nation in any negative metric of social well being (youth suicide, meth use, homelessness, mentally ill in emergency rooms) carries huge economic costs—not to mention human costs—that must be accounted for. We’re paying much more for jails, prisons and emergency room services—the consequences of our stinginess—when it would be cheaper and more humane simply to fund prevention programs.

Nevada was recently named one of the “sinful six,” one of six states that requires the poor to pay a much larger share of their income than rich people do, while remaining downright cruel in helping low- and middle-income people through education and social services. (And no, Mississippi is not on the list.)

How do we fix our tax system and provide funding for critical state services? The teachers’ initiative to raise taxes on large casinos is a start. Small businesses need to realize they’ve been taken to the cleaners by larger businesses and are paying more under the gross payroll tax than they would under a sensible corporate profits or gross receipts tax—the lack of which is shortchanging Nevada by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mining needs to work harder for Nevada. The mining industry extracted nearly $5 billion in minerals from Nevada last year. Newmont Mining, because it took every deduction allowed, paid nothing in taxes under the state’s Net Proceeds Tax. With gold over $900 an ounce, why does Newmont belong to a protected class?

If the trend continues, the disintegration of public education and communities will repel business growth and relocation here. The pain experienced by our disadvantaged neighbors, kids and seniors will worsen. I suspect the majority of people in our state don’t like this situation. We who believe another state is possible must get organized.