Nevada’s wealthy can afford to pitch in

“You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain … more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.”
— Paul Krugman, The New York Times, Sept. 20

Class war sounds so … violent. Let’s say “socioeconomic struggle.”

Whatever you call it, the chasm between rich and poor is widening. I read recent NY Times reports of elite for-profit private schools where wealthy parents compete to dole out $35,000 for their 5-year-olds to attend kindergarten. Wow.

Real estate ads for Nevada McMansions baffle me. Who buys 7,000-square-foot houses? How many people live in them? My hard-working neighbors cram two families, maybe 8-10 people, in what looks like a 1,200-square-foot house. What a contrast.

Interesting story: Wayne Newton plans to turn his upscale Vegas mansion into a museum. Predictably, neighbors don’t want a tourist attraction in their backyards. The Las Vegas Sun quotes one homeowner: “I invested $9 million in my home. I don’t want to live next to a museum.”

I don’t care about Newton’s museum. But $9 million? That’s a whole lotta home. Nevada’s low tax burden has made it a great place to amass piles of money while enjoying our “free” schools and cops and roads.

Now the free ride’s over. Our state needs cash. But we’re afraid. We think “raising taxes” means gouging folks who can barely make rent. These fears are fueled by talk of taxing groceries—food! It won’t happen, thankfully.

Sadly, we can’t cut our way out of this mess.

Sasha Abramsky’s recent article in The Nation magazine, “Nevada Goes Bust,” sums up our economic woes. Abramsky quotes Mary Lau, CEO of the Retail Association of Nevada, who argues our legislators could slash all spending not related to education or health and human services—including police and prisons—and we’d still be in the red. Lau says, “I don’t think you can say, ‘Screw you and the donkey you rode in on—no new taxes!’ You still have to maintain a certain level of government services.”

Historically, our state’s so frugal it hurts. Abramsky notes that Nevada has the fewest number of state workers per capita in the nation. Our funding for schools, in the best of times, ranks in the nation’s lowest.

Now, that golden era of mere underfunding is over. Teaching jobs have disappeared while classes get bigger. Educators take pay cuts. Our schools staved off disaster during the past two years thanks to the Obama administration’s economic recovery and school improvement funds. But can the feds continue to bail out Nevada’s schools?

We’ve cut state worker benefits and unemployment. Closed DMV offices. What’s next? Charge distressed humans for 911 calls? That’s on the table in Tracy, Calif. Send a bill to families whose houses catch fire? Stop snow removal in winter. Let it melt! How ’bout we ax human services for vulnerable Nevadans and, hey, build Futurama-style Stop-and-Drop suicide booths instead?

After the cuts, what kind of Nevada remains?

A state that no business in its right mind would consider when looking for a home. Companies interested in relocating to Nevada look at things like schools and public services. I’m pretty sure they expect roads to be plowed.

Schools, cops, roads. Stuff costs money. I have nothing against wealth. But if you can afford a $9 million Vegas mansion, you can afford to pitch in.