At the Silver Legacy Casino in Reno, there is a huge multi-story machine that cranks and wheezes. Wheels turn, pulleys pull, noise echoes through the casino. This machine doesn’t do anything—it’s just there to be an exhibit to dazzle tourists with a display of movement and activity and sound. It’s a mechanical metaphor for Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Gibbons says higher taxes reduce economic growth. From what well of experience did he draw this lesson? Perhaps from his life as a businessperson—no, he never ran a business. Perhaps the knowledge he gained as a member of the budget and taxation committees in the Nevada Legislature and Congress—no, he never served on money committees. Perhaps his handling of his law practice—no, it was a phantom practice.
The governor’s philosophy of taxation obviously does not come from knowledge or experience because there are too many instances of prosperity fueled by high taxes to disprove it. Through the entire prosperous Eisenhower era, the top income tax rate was 91 percent compared to today’s 35 percent. Nevada thrived after the 2003 state tax hike.
Even when Gibbons was right about something—such as the deceptive Regional Transportation Commission ballot measure that failed to tell voters straight out that approval could mean tax increases—his behavior alienated all those around him. If he had made that point to legislative leaders as part of an ongoing program of consultation and cooperation, it would have been received far more positively.
Taxes have their uses. Gibbons says bad times are no time to raise taxes. But he also once said that good times were no time to raise taxes. That’s not a governing philosophy. It’s political pandering.
Gibbons was elected on a “no new taxes” campaign when times were good. Now he serves with a legislature that was elected more recently, when times were bad. The mandate they carry from the voters is more up to date than his, but he is crippled by his inability to learn and his unwillingness to listen. He cannot recognize that conditions are different than when he was elected and make an adjustment.
Amazingly, Gibbons is even unwilling to accept a tax hike that meets the benchmark he himself set for lawmakers. In 1994, he got a screwball minority control amendment into the Nevada Constitution. It allows one third of either house of the legislature to stop a tax hike. The lawmakers met that benchmark—but he still vetoed their tax package.
We can only feel anxious now that the Nevada Legislature is out of session. For the past four months, the governor would make some expansive statement of policy, and the legislature would step in and cancel it. For the next year and a half, there will be no fuse to control him.
How bad do things in Nevada have to be before the governor listens to someone else? Constantly chattering “No new taxes” in answer to every question he is asked about every aspect of Nevada government is an obsession. There’s a difference between being resolute and being a zealot—and a fool.