No voice for fairness

There was nothing surprising about Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini endorsing ballot Question W-1, which would hike the sales tax to pay for school needs. After all, they helped create the problems the ballot measure is designed to solve–Sandoval by holding the state hostage for four years to a first-term campaign promise he was stupid enough to make in a campaign he couldn’t lose, and Martini by shoveling corporate welfare to newly arriving corporations that drained school funds.

But Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve’s presence at that news conference was a major disappointment. Her election, along with a new city council of members who brought both an interest in productive governing techniques and skepticism toward the business interests that have mismanaged this valley for so long, offered hope that they would bring a broader perspective than just keeping lobbyists and campaign contributors happy. There was a particular expectation that, for the first time in decades, a council with both enlightened men and a majority of women would give family issues their due at least equal with business.

That broader perspective is just what is missing from reactions to W-1. It is not just an education measure. It is also a tax measure, which means it is an equity issue. Yet neither officials nor journalists have been addressing its fairness. Instead of a tax package for schools that demands a shared commitment from the community, it is one more dip into the sales tax that soaks the working poor. For once, the mayor of Reno has a chance to have an impact on distribution of taxes, and draw attention to the regressiveness of this state’s tax system. Instead she just did what most public officials have done for a half century and stuck it to the working poor.

The supporters of this measure keep telling us that it will only cost a typical family of four earning $75,000 an additional $96 a year in sales tax payments. First of all, it is an indication of the world that the committee that devised this measure lives in that “$96 a year” and “only” appear in the same sentence. But more to the point, it’s not just $96. That tax hike comes on top of the 1998 sales tax hike for the train trench the casinos demanded but would not pay for, and two 1981 sales tax hikes (one of them for schools) and another 1967 hike (also for schools). Indeed, most of the Nevada sales tax–one of the highest in the nation–is in hikes added to the original Nevada sales tax of two percent. The fact is, sales taxpayers are already doing their share, and much more than their share. The sales tax hits low-income wage earners more than the affluent. And state legislators have resisted extending the sales tax to services like lawyers and stockbroker fees that would make it more fair.

Schieve could have spoken against this soak-the-poor tax hike and also saved the county from the highest sales tax in the state (and who knows what that will do to economic development in the county?). Instead, she called for a still heavier burden on those who are already overburdened.