Government, butt out

Even before our story on the use of tax funds to sell a ballot measure appeared (Driving home the message, News, Sept. 25), we heard from a labor leader concerned about whether the story would hurt the measures. Since its publication, we have also heard from businesspeople.

The story described how the Regional Transportation Commission used about $20,000 to send out a mailing that argued—carefully and subtlely, but clearly—in favor of enactment of the measures.

The ballot measures, RTC 2 and RTC 5, seek to raise taxes used for transportation in Washoe County.

There is no clearer evidence that the RTC’s intervention in the campaign was unnecessary than the phone calls from labor and business we received. Those are the groups who have an interest in selling the ballot measure. RTC should have left them to do it.

The RTC claims it was only trying to get information on the measures out to the community. But it is the community itself where the selling job should take place. It is community groups who should be doing it. The RTC should not step in and do the job for these interests. The notion that only government can do community education is nonsense.

Restraint is a part of responsible governance. RTC should have held back from entering the political arena. Its denials that it was doing so don’t survive an examination of the campaign mailing it sent out, much less knowledge of the fact that the mailing did not go to the whole community—only to 80,000 households that contain registered voters.

The mailing asserted claims that are subjective, not objective, such as that the enactment of the measures would aid the local economy, reduce congestion, and save drivers time and money.

There was a time when members of Congress were unable to restrain themselves in the use of their free mailing privileges, so rules were created to limit its use during election periods.

Nevada has a law prohibiting the kind of thing the RTC does, but it also has lawyers who “interpret” the law out of recognition. This is not the first time RTC has done such a thing, and if government will not show restraint during electon periods, it may be time for Nevada’s law to be reworded to cut out any loopholes through which RTC slips.

And now labor and business make it clear that RTC’s actions were entirely unnecessary. The RTC claims that if it didn’t put out “information” on the ballot measures, no one would. Nonsense. If there is a selling job—or an “information” job—to be done, it should be left to supporters of the ballot members out in the community. RTC funding would be better spent improving its mass transit service and keeping its staggering prices down for Northern Nevada users.

If the RTC were not doing the job for special interests, those special interests would have to do the job themselves. The unions, Associated General Contractors, or groups formed for this campaign would probably do it. If not, so be it. That still does not make government the remedy.