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July 7, 2015

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jon ralston:

Democrats have right idea on taxes, but it’s too late

As I listened to the Democratic tax plan Thursday, a thoughtful, even visionary look at stabilizing the state and bringing it out of the Mesozoic funding era, I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I fervently hoped, it would be Jan. 15, not May 5.

The ideas — lifting tax sunsets, enacting a sales (transactions) tax on services and a franchise tax — had been hovering in the Legisophere for months, nay years. The Democrats, despite their hollow excuses throughout the session, have known the contours of the Great Tax Plan for months. (And so has most everyone else.)

But they should have showed their cards early, not waited until a month is left in the session to propose the largest tax increase ($1.5 billion) in state history, when any chance of passing substantive, dramatic policy changes is virtually impossible. The leaders should have shown a stark contrast to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s vision for the state, telling Nevada residents what the short- and long-term effects are of not having the long-delayed discussion of how the state raises and spends money.

This is nothing short of the “what kind of state do you want to be” dialogue that lawmakers (many well-intentioned) always put off as they try to cobble together some nonsensical tax abomination and buy votes, with pork or pet bills, to pass it.

This is not déjà vu all over again. This is déjà vu still, always, forever. It never ends, like “Groundhog Day” without the comedy or happy climax.

I know what the Democrats were “thinking.” If we put out the plan too early, everyone will throw rocks at it for 120 days and kill it. So let’s pretend we don’t have a plan yet and show how awful the Sandoval cuts are and … voilà, we unveil in May and they will greet us with bouquets. Kind of like they did the troops in Iraq. Where are the weapons of mass taxation?

The Democrats thoroughly underestimated Sandoval, whose political canniness and toughness is belied by his Gov. Sunny persona. And their tactics hardened Republican votes they might have been able to coax to their point of view. It was nothing short of astonishing to hear two potential tax votes in January — state Sens. Joe Hardy and Ben Kieckhefer — sound this week on “Face to Face” as if they were possessed by the spirit of Grover Norquist.

And I think it’s too late for Max Von Sydow to be summoned for an exorcism. It’s not that the devil is in the details — the details don’t even matter because too many Republicans won’t listen and Sandoval will do everything he can to hold the GOP caucus. Worse, the GOP noise machine will crank up the volume, screeching, threatening, intimidating any Republicans who actually uncover their ears and dare to listen to the plan.

It is sad, depressing and … utterly predictable.

And so we get down to policy vs. process. Politicians — remember how famous Bill Clinton was for this — hate it when the media do “process” stories instead of “policy” stories. What that means is they want us to forget the reality of politics and personalities and just tell the world they are right.

Well: The Democrats are right. The tax base does need to be broadened and they have a way that most tax studies over the years would validate. Even the Nevada Policy Research Institute supports a sales tax on services if it’s revenue neutral and lowers the sales tax rate. The franchise tax, modeled after one in Texas imposed by a Republican governor, makes a lot of sense and isn’t unlike a gross receipts tax entombed in 2003. It would exempt most small businesses and would not create a mini-Internal Revenue Service or allow businesses to escape taxation, as a net profits tax would.

And the idea to repeal the payroll tax, which was the so-called tax broadening sop substituted for the gross receipts eight years ago, should be welcomed by almost everyone.

But, I fear, the Democrats have blown it with their mismanagement of the issue. The process they have used has killed the policy they want. Yes, politicians understand fear best of all. But these legislative Republicans, emboldened by Sandoval, will extract a hard bargain just to lift the tax sunsets on sales and payroll taxes — and this entire fight is being fought on the GOP battlefield.

“Everyone has a price,” Kieckhefer said, somewhat inelegantly but truthfully on “Face to Face.” But what will the Democrats have to give up to buy GOP votes?

My guess is even if they are lucky enough to scratch out enough votes to lift the sunsets — and I am not sanguine — they will have to look in the mirror and wonder if they sold their souls for very little gain.

(The plan is here:

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  1. Jon if they had of shown their cards earlier they would have been laughed off the stage even earlier.

    They want to return to housing bubble era spending - that is, spend $600 million more than we're spending now.

    That isn't the right idea, it is irresponsible.

  2. Keep on fighting democrats! Everyone is still asleep! If it gets to June, and it has to shut down for several days to wake people up. . . then let's do it!

    It's not right what they want to do - but no one is going to like it when it happens! Give all the government employees a few days without pay and they will be screaming and pounding on Governor Sandoval's door.

    I'm so sick of these big money Republicans running our state and shoving this down our throat - we control half of this process, if they don't want to play ball and they aren't "scared" of us . . . let's show them a riot and see how they like it!

    Republicans don't know it yet - there are more of us than there are of them! Hold tight! Keep pleading your case! Don't be bullied into giving in. They want to see what a state will be like without a government - no police, no fire, no teachers, no hospitals, no caregivers. . .. let's show them!

  3. Bananas!

    With rare exception, Democrats have only ever had one idea on taxes,... More! More taxes. Tax the rich, which in these days means anybody they can tax that earns a living beyond a government handout, as in the latest proposals for additional gas taxes and the most ludicrous one of all, a per mile tax using electronic tamperproof monitors permanently installed in all vehicles. Both regressive taxes that punish those who can afford it least, the most.

    Their dearth of originality when it comes taxes is the matching counterpart to their one only idea on spending,... More!

    They are a matched pair of a singular ideological bent. More taxes to support more spending. That is the sum of the Democratic agenda. Oh, they may try to justify their never ending need for more spending by periodic forays into lesser but seemingly more important and altruistic directions under the headline of any number of social justice issues. But in reality, when time and circumstance have made these supposed issues of conscience unobtainable, they have never failed to settle for more, regardless of how it is spent. That is unless it's anything to do with national defense, free enterprise or private property.

    Tax and spend, like the chicken and the egg question is irrelevant as they are part and parcel of one another, two faces of the same siamese twin.

    While the idea of reducing spending from actual current levels vice the puppet show of reducing the rate of increase is an anathema to the left, the prospect of increased spending is never abhorrent. While no geneticist has yet isolated the genetic component that invariably causes this common condition, it is known to be in concert with those genetic qualities that causes them to salivate and quiver with joy at the prospect of more spending and the higher taxes necessary to facilitate this behavior. Like stealing to pay for drugs in order to obtain a euphoric state, liberals tax (steal private property) in order to fund the spending that creates the collective social high derived from it. Like a mindless shopaholic whose basement and attic is full of unneeded items purchased on witless shopping sprees they can't afford, they will continue even as the bill collectors, the foreclosures and the court actions come home to roost. Unfortunately, they not only endanger themselves but all of society in their addiction and dependance. Like any addict, tough love works on occasion, but no twelve step program exists to help them. There are no break the cycle of tax and spend anonymous meetings to attend, and no sponsors to help outside of fiscal conservatism and conservatives, otherwise known as personal and public responsibility.