A once-popular ballot measure is now in doubt
Tim Healion became one of downtown Reno’s better known business owners during the years that his well-remembered Deux Gro Nez coffeehouse operated on California Avenue. Now he manages another restaurant, this one in Midtown, and he is founder of Reno’s Tour de Nez race. These days, he has taken on another role, too. He’s been speaking up for ballot Question 3, which would create a 2 percent tax on business revenue in excess of $1 million.
“It’s an opportunity to invest in education,” Healion said. “That’s what this tax is about. And with the state being at the very bottom in per-pupil spending, I think that’s a good idea. My daughter’s in public education. You know, we get—as a businessperson—we get five calls a week over different charities and different opportunities for us to donate money to stuff. So here’s an opportunity to donate to education. It’s another way to look at it. And get the calculator out. If it’s not 2 percent of your gross, don’t worry.”
After the better part of two decades working for child care centers, Belinda Martinez went out on her own about six months ago, opening Itsy Bitsy Learning Center in Sparks.
“I have a capacity for 80 children, and I have 40, so I have half my capacity, and I love this.”
As a new business owner working toward a larger customer base, it might be thought that she would not invite any more expenses. But she does. She is backing Ballot Question 3.
“I’m supporting Question 3 because I really think education is the key to success. It worked for me when I was younger and I have my own business now.”
She said as a mother she has an up-close view of local schools.
“I have two kids in Washoe County, and I see the classrooms. They don’t have enough materials. The teachers have so many kids. I think education needs more money.”
Alex Sabogal is a partner in Credo Computers. He said he considers Question 3 an investment:
“We as small-business owners are helping students on tight budgets, donating computers, supporting whoever wants to learn, and we welcome people into our business daily to try to teach the skills, attitude, ethics and integrity that are so important. … Better student performance attracts businesses, better education is better income for households, better education means better health.”
Given how many businesspeople—particularly owners of small businesses who hope to grow into the million-dollar bracket—are supporting Question 3, it’s surprising how little communication there has been between the two sides. The measure is sponsored by the Nevada State Education Association, a teachers group. It is being opposed by business groups such as chambers of commerce and the Nevada Taxpayers Association. But the teachers have not engaged in a very vigorous program of trying to convert business owners—who would be the most effective supporters in campaign commercials—leaving business outreach to an allied volunteer organization, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
Opponents have engaged in very little dialogue with the teachers. When town meeting-style presentations were put together for business groups on the measure earlier this year, they did not include supporters of the proposal. Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association said there was no interest in hearing from the other side, that leaders of the opposition effort were solidly opposed to the measure.Money talks
Question 3 seeks to raise about $700 million a year for schools and dollars have had enormous impact on the race. The Coalition to Defeat the Margin Tax Initiative raised over $4 million this year. Most of that money has gone to a heavy schedule of anti-3 television ads, outspending opponents more than two-to-one. Almost exactly one year ago in a Harstad Strategic Research survey, supporters of the measure led by a margin of 57 to 38 percent. Money turned that around. Today, under the pounding of the television campaign, a Survey USA survey commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed it losing 40-37, with nearly a fourth undecided. Supporters have raised less than a million dollars, though they have exceeded that in expenditures of about $1.5 million.
One of the big issues that divides supporters and opponents is whether or not the money from the tax would go to schools. A ballot argument drafted by opponents reads, “Promoters claim the tax is for education. But Nevada law lets the legislature divert education funds to other uses.”
Supporters responded, “The opponents know every dime collected from this tax will go directly to K-12 education.”
The language of the ballot measure itself reads that after the cost of administering the tax is set aside, all other revenue generated must be placed “in the State Distributive School Account in the State General Fund. The money so deposited must be apportioned among the several school districts and charter schools of this State at the times and in the manner provided by law for the money in the State Distributive School Account.”
Question 3 is the latest of several proposals the teachers have offered in the last decade to raise more money for schools. Large businesses found fault with each of them for different provisions.