Paying Musk's bills with our money
As a legislator and as a citizen, I’ve always voted for more taxes to fund our schools. That’s because I believe government has a duty to educate the populace, provide an infrastructure that won’t crumble around us, and protect those who cannot protect themselves. Improving education in a last-place state is clearly a priority.
But when more and more tax revenue is diverted to the corporate sector as “incentives” to bring business to Nevada, I’m less and less willing to replace those giveaways by raising our taxes.
There’s no question that the Washoe County School District needs more funding to build new schools to ease overcrowding and to repair aging facilities. That’s why Senate Bill 411 was passed by the Nevada Legislature earlier this year, creating a Public Schools Overcrowding and Repair Needs Committee. The group is specifically authorized to recommend a ballot question next November to raise certain taxes to fund capital projects.
The committee is allowed to ask voters to raise one or more of the following taxes—room tax on rental of transient lodging, supplemental governmental services tax assessed when you register your car, real property transfer tax paid when buying or selling property, sales and use tax, or property tax. The money can only be used to finance capital projects for schools.
The imminent explosion of new residents and their children generated by the Tesla gigafactory we paid $1.3 billion to attract is creating intense pressure for the school district and its already overcrowded schools. Year-round schedules and staggered sessions may soon be needed to squeeze kids in and there’s little funding for new construction.
It’s not just the schools that are looking for more taxpayer money. Recently, the directors of the Truckee River Flood Management Authority decided that they didn’t want to raise fees on downtown businesses to fund $420 million in improved flood control. Sparks Councilmember Ron Smith, who chairs the flood authority, said he preferred to increase the sales tax so the entire community could contribute, not just the businesses in the floodplain that would directly benefit from the improvements.
Nowhere in the discussion of how best to fund capital construction projects is there any acknowledgment of the billions of tax dollars that have been given away as incentives to lure Tesla, data centers and film companies to our region. Tesla promised to boost our economy if we acquiesced to their tax-free demands and we foolishly competed with other states for the privilege of jockeying with thousands more cars in the Spaghetti Bowl and insufficient tax revenue to fix the problem.
The rationale for the incentives is the economic impact that will be generated, i.e. a rising-tide-will-float-all-boats theory. Besides, the proponents argue, we wouldn’t have the tax revenue anyway if these businesses weren’t located here so we’re really not losing anything.
That kind of thinking ignores the obvious. If Tesla didn’t import hundreds of new residents and their families to work in the gigafactory, our need for new schools and improved roads would be far less.
Personally, I’ve had enough of corporate shareholders feasting on the taxes I pay to support our schools, build better roads, and protect our most vulnerable citizens. And I’m not in the mood to bail out our policymakers by voting to increase our already high sales tax and then watch them continue to give our money away.
Our children are going to suffer for the folly of our leaders, it’s true, and it’s tragic. But we need to send a message that subsidizing wealthy corporations cannot continue.
Maybe there’s another option. Send the bill for a new Spaghetti Bowl ($560 million) and six new schools ($550 million) to Elon. He can pay for them with our money.