Time to pay the piper

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. Too bad Nevada can’t use clichés to pay down the budget deficit.

The special session of the legislature, begun this week to the tune of $50,000 in taxpayer money per day, is a hot topic across the nation. Publications as august as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Business Week and The Chronicle of Higher Education are weighing in on our state’s financial, political and ethical woes. You’ve all heard the one about Gibbons arriving from D.C. the night before the session with his text-message squeeze in tow, or how he opened the session picking fights with Sens. Bill Raggio and Steven Horsford, making the prospect of a swift (and less expensive) resolution slim. Said Raggio: “I don’t have time to fight with the governor.” Gibbons’ grandstanding looks like he has all kinds of time.

Maybe our governor is just jealous that former Illinois governor Rob Blagojevich won that state first place in last year’s “most dysfunctional state” race, relegating us to second. Or maybe he’s peeved that Blagojevich has turned his flair for the dramatic into a post-gubernatorial career in Elvis impersonation. Gibbons is right about that—if anyone should be impersonating Elvis, it should be the governor of the state where Elvis cloning is king. At any rate, it appears to me that the special session is as much another opportunity for Gibbons to get in the faces of our legislators as any kind of serious effort to balance the budget.

Did I mention that the session costs the equivalent of (at least) one state job a day?

Of course, with a $887 million budget shortfall, there have to be cuts. But has anyone thought about the fact that every state job that’s cut turns a source of revenue (state workers pay taxes) into a state cost (unemployment insurance—up more than 200 percent since 2008)? One of the many, many problems with our state’s financial situation is that efforts to balance the budget in the short term often lead to “solutions” that cost us far more money in the longer term—such as the proposal to sell state-owned buildings (where state agencies don’t have to pay rent) and then lease back the space—(so that they will). And not even very far into the long term—regardless of what happens in this session, budget projections for 2011 estimate $2-3 billion shortfall. That is because our basic fiscal structure needs to be overhauled—as experts have been saying for years—and that kind of work can’t happen in a special session. We could have re-structured back in the day when our budget was fat, but what politician is willing to throw her career onto that sword? Reap the whirlwind, my fellow Nevadans—our adamant refusal to be taxed is at the core of this disaster.

That, and the governor. At least Gibbons did propose reigning in a paltry $25 million tax deduction from the mining industry (one of the few thriving businesses), and there might be a fee increase on gaming, so some kind of revenue-generating prospects exist, although timid and nothing close to what we need. And, he also thinks the lease-back option on publicly owned buildings is a bad idea. But maybe that’s just because he didn’t think of it first.

I have an idea. We could satisfy Gibbons’ flair for drama, possibly boost casino revenue, and clear the way for serious leadership in Carson City by moving the governor’s act to a Vegas stage. Maybe he and Blagojevich could partner up with a tribute to the Rat Pack.