Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 | 2:02 a.m.
On Jan. 31, the Nevada State Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision and upheld the will of the people to move the Education Initiative to Carson City for the Legislature to consider. This is a victory for the people, and it brings us one step closer toward protecting our future and the future of our children by addressing the serious problem of inadequate K-12 funding in Nevada. As the court said, “The initiative’s primary purpose is clearly to fund education,” and the next step is for legislators to support this mandate and bring a dedicated, predictable source of revenue to education funded by a revenue source that doesn’t ask working Nevadans to pay more but asks corporations to pay their fair share.
The Education Initiative is a business margin tax that broadens the tax base; it helps the state rely less on one industry and creates a revenue stream that is resistant to economic volatility, but it also asks all large businesses to pay a small amount to invest in our kids’ education.
In his response to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State address, state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis said he disagreed with the approach of cutting taxes on businesses while raising the sales tax on middle class families. This acknowledgement will come as great relief to Nevadans who have long been subjected to a state and local tax structure in Nevada more regressive than the United States as a whole, relying too heavily on both middle class and poor families.
Despite this imbalance and even with the voice of more than 100,000 Nevadans delivered to Carson City in the form of an initiative petition, it appears there is little appetite for revenue reform. Instead Nevadans are subjected to empty rhetoric such as: “We cannot tax our way out; we can only grow our way out.”
Such an approach is unrealistic based on our state’s current tax structure. In spite of our low tax burden on corporations, growth in our state has been slow and tax experts observe that growth does not pay for itself initially. Investment in education to support growth must be put in place before the growth itself.
When our children are forced to rely on budgetary horse-trading in the Legislature, education decisions are reduced to poor choices. In an interview with another newspaper, Assemblyman Randy Kirner said that decisions on education will boil down to “What can we afford?” NSEA is saying we can afford more and do better if corporations start paying their fair share. It’s not acceptable to force our communities to make a choice between all-day kindergarten or English-language learner fluency. Who will make the decision which of these much-needed programs takes priority? Perpetuating the status quo and a small-steps approach leaves too many of Nevada’s students behind unnecessarily.
Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick said in opening the session that legislators should not apply nickel-sized solutions to dollar-sized problems. We agree with Speaker Kirkpatrick, but we should also steer clear of trying to create a revenue solution that is all things to all businesses.
Other states have attempted this approach, and it only served to create volatility; exactly the opposite of what is needed to provide the resources our children need to succeed.
Legislators have before them a dollar solution for a dollar problem brought forth by the people. Nevadans reject proposals which would increase sales taxes or ask too little from our business community.
Tax and education experts agree that Nevada should bolster its spending on education because it benefits our state, but only if we commit to a long-term strategy that helps all our children reach their potential and only if it calls on Nevada businesses to acknowledge we’re all in this together.
It’s time the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share.
Lynn Warne is the president of the Nevada State Education Association, which is sponsoring the Education Initiative.