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April 19, 2014

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election 2012:

Voter rejection of tax increases is ominous sign for efforts to fix state’s tax structure

Nevada swung heavily for Democrat Barack Obama for the second time in four years this week. The Silver State has an impressive Democratic machine, changing demographics that favor that party and 90,000 more registered party voters than Republicans have.

But voters here also flashed their fiscally conservative, anti-tax tendencies Tuesday, rejecting by wide margins county tax initiatives to raise money for school construction, libraries, public safety and services for seniors.

The message from voters: We may look like a blue state, but we're not Massachusetts.

In Clark County, it was the first time in at least 25 years that a school construction question was shot down — and it wasn’t even close. Voters pummelled the property tax increase 66 percent to 34 percent. Another question, which would have raised money for Henderson libraries, also was rejected.

In Washoe County, voters rejected an increase of the cost to register vehicles to fund public safety and senior services by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.

In Carson City, voters overwhelmingly rejected a sales tax increase for a new downtown library center.

It’s an ominous sign for those who want to increase funding for schools, public safety and social services and regard the ballot as the best chance of doing it.

The state’s funding for schools is among the lowest in the nation and has been a constant source of tension for Democrats, moderate business leaders and their traditional allies in policy battles in Carson City.

The Clark County school construction vote “broke my heart,” said Billy Vassiliadis, the prominent political consultant who ran the school campaign this year pro bono, as he had other school construction bond measures in the past.

He said the campaign got off to a late start and struggled to raise money.

Polls showed it was “an uphill battle from Day One,” he said.

Voters, in a state where most people are underwater on their homes and there is still highest-in-the-nation unemployment, expressed concern about their own economic plight.

“It’s hard to make the case for a long-term investment in the state when they’re struggling to get by,” Vassiliadis said.

Republican political consultant Robert Uithoven said Nevada, despite the political results in the presidential race, is still a center-right state on fiscal issues. Its libertarian streak in both parties makes voters predisposed to vote against ballot questions, “particularly those asking for more money.”

With the national races, Uithoven said, “there was so much fog from the competitive races, it was difficult for anyone to launch an effective, proactive campaign on behalf of ballot questions.” It was easier, Uithoven opined, for voters to just push no on their ballots.

How anti-tax Nevada voters are is a relevant question heading into the next legislative session.

Last year, Democrats and business leaders, including major interests like gaming and mining, were blocked from raising taxes or changing the state’s tax structure. Instead, they had to settle for extending existing taxes passed in 2009 for another two years.

During the summer of 2011, when frustration about taxes getting through the Legislature was in full bloom, some business leaders and labor officials decided the legislative process was broken. It requires a two-thirds super-majority of lawmakers to pass taxes there. So they decided taxes via the ballot was the only recourse.

But after seeing initial polls, large business interests, including gaming and mining, backed away from the question. The tax initiative now is being carried by the Nevada State Education Association, the teachers union, which has collected tens of thousands of signatures and is fighting legal challenges from conservative business groups.

Democratic lawmakers acknowledged Wednesday that even though they retained control of both the Senate and Assembly, there was little chance a tax increase would pass in 2013. (They wouldn’t say so publicly for fear of alienating their base.)

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is up for re-election in 2014, has committed to extending existing taxes but won’t support increasing taxes beyond that.

Dan Hart, the political consultant with the state teachers union, said not to read too much into voters' rejection of the Clark County school construction initiative.

“They didn’t run much of a campaign,” he said. “There was not an education process with the voters. They made it about the buildings instead of the kids.”

He said voters are open to the idea of raising money for education, particularly if that tax was on businesses.

“People of Nevada are not real anxious to raise taxes,” he said. “But the voters of Nevada understand the importance of education, not only to the future of our kids but to the economic prosperity to our community.”

But, as one despondent proponent of the school construction question said: “Voters didn’t just say no. They said hell no.”

Cy Ryan contributed to this story.

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  1. It was not about citizens' refusal for more taxes. It was a demand for accountability. The message was: "You are not getting any more until you fix what is wrong."

    The problem however, is the district's idea of what is wrong is miles away from the voters' idea of what really needs to be fixed.

    Yes, the public wants students to perform better, but it also wants the district to show fiscal responsibility by fixing the bloated, top heavy, administration. It has not addressed that issue, not even a token attempt. Instead, in an already 'tight budget,' it reorganized and added more people to its already top heavy structure, laid-off teachers, and squeezed more children in already overloaded classrooms. It promised students to be 'ready by exit, ' yet alienated those who are getting them ready - the teachers and parents.

    The vision is myopic. Each side is using a different lens to see.

    A true leader offers a clear vision and ensures everyone uses a single lens to look at a compelling picture of what it wants to achieve.

    The district powers-that-be failed to determine the causality and suffered defeat. It will continue to lose until it adjusts its focus.

  2. I am sure the anti tax comes because of government waste. Government salaries and entitlements have been rising all through the meltdown. The best legislators have done is to take away services instead of lowering the way we pay to fit this economy. Even our Auto workers are working for less so it seems if you can stop it you need to change to Charter Schools or even privatize all services. They seems to understand profit and loss vs taxpayers being cash cows at a time keeping a roof over your head has become very difficult or even a job.

  3. This is the nature of the electorate now. Give me more FREE STUFF, but I don't want to pay for it. Make those evil rich people pay more.

    I have neighbors, who voted for Obama, who don't realize that we borrow money from China to hand out Free stuff. Some think there is a big bank account somewhere, that the Republicans are refusing to release funds from.

    We are a nation of Takers now

  4. A state with a historical libertarian leaning in both parties should have voted more strongly for Gary Johnson.

  5. Chunky says:

    He doubts most voters are against better schools and libraries, he thinks most voters are simply tired of another government hand picking their pockets.

    Mr. LV_Tom is right when he says the nature of the electorate is "Give me more FREE STUFF, but I don't want to pay for it."

    That's what Chunky thinks too!

  6. The problem with this reasoning: this wasn't a generic ballot measure endorsing taxes. These were two very specific taxes, spelled out and collected in a specific way, for specific purposes.

    I voted against the CCSD request for increased property taxes. It's not that I'm anti-tax or fiscally conservative; I don't think temporarily increasing property taxes is the best way to fund our education system and its needed repairs.

    Pretty simple, and not representative of my general views on our poorly-funded state budget or our state's need for additional revenue.

  7. Anti-tax? How are we paying those firefighters and various other employees who are getting 50-300% MORE than private sector workers in comparable jobs? There is TOO MUCH REVENUE so they've "found" places to spend it. They don't need more money. They need to adjust expenditures to reasonableness.

  8. We could revisit Nevada's Sales and Use Tax statutes--to broaden the tax base and LOWER RATES. Eliminate all the 1/4% kickers for "special projects" and recalibrate the parsing. Currently the State General Fund gets 2%. Schools get a similar amount as do Cities and Counties. AND Cities and Counties get all those 1/8 and 1/4 kickers. Clearly the state has grown and must fund Obamacare--that 2% is just not going to do it anymore. At the same time, the Cities, Counties, and School Districts are so OVER funded that they OVERPAY employees by obscene amounts. While we legislate correction in the rates, let's get the SUT to apply to all sales (remove exemptions and credits for various industries) and to also apply the tax to personal grooming services--those who pay $500 for a haircut can afford it. Those who pay $12 can go to a shop that does $13 with tax included. Those who cut their own hair, don't pay more. Could also add pet grooming, "installation" labor when cars are tuned up--might not be wanted but would be a sort-of painless way to level the tax-paying field.

  9. The School System must Prove they are Competent in Educating Students. Regardless of the Financial Status of the System over the past Decades the Teachers and the Administrators have Never been able to accomplish their Core Mission and have lost support from the Public. You do not reward Failure with more Money.
    Most Clark County Residents are not native to the region and have few attachments to the school system, making Property Taxes for Schools very unpopular. A Dog Park referendum in Clark County is more Likely to pass than a School System Bond.

    Nevada Must Find Alternative ways to fund Education, starting with Considerably Higher Taxes on Multinational Mining Corporations that rape our land and leave only a denuded landscape behind.
    Casino Gaming in China is taxed at 40% and all of our local Casino Billionaires do not even blink at paying considerably Higher Taxes everywhere else. We should raise their Taxes and Fund the Education that will attract High Paying Jobs. A Progressive State Income Tax (excepting the First 50k of Income) should be implemented to reduce our reliance on Property taxes and making sure these Billionaires contribute to our community in a Meaningful way.
    Low Corporate Taxes Do Not attract the type of businesses we want (Just look at Northern California) a Quality Education and a Highly Trained Workforce will build the future - Not Service Sector Call Centers and Non Union Casino Jobs.

  10. We need to INCREASE class size until students can read and write at grade level. Clearly they must teach each other while "their" teachers are out of the class rooms networking with each other and organizing Union activities.

  11. There are other ways to raise revenues other than raiding my wallet just because I own a house. I have been subsidizing CCSD for decades. Enough. I have never had a child enrolled in CCSD. As long as I was working, the tax burden for CCSD was inconsequential. Now I'm retired, and am sick of the hat in hand school district picking my pocket at every opportunity. The results? Abysmal on virtually every criteria used to evaluate what type of education kids get in this burg. I am not a conservative anti tax at all costs person. But as stated in the first sentence of this comment; there are other more equitable ways to raise money. I voted no on Question 2, and would and will do it again if it comes up. I am tired of subsidizing somebody elses kids.

  12. This comment is factually inaccurate: "you need to change to Charter Schools or even privatize all services. They seems to understand profit and loss vs taxpayers being cash cows"

    Charter schools and privatized services don't cost taxpayers less. They corporations running them say they will cost you less but every legitimate statistical analysis of them actually shows that they cost MORE in the short term and the long term.

  13. K-12 is broken. We've dumped more and more money into it since Governor Guinn said he could fix it. He couldn't. Money didn't fix it. Shut down public ed and fund vouchers for home schooling, parochial schools, for-profit schools and whatever else we can find. We must find OPTIONS for the students. We cannot afford to ignore the disservice and dysfunction in public K-12.