Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 | 6 p.m.
A liberal former legislative leader eviscerated the state’s political system on Wednesday, saying it is ruled by “oligarchs” and arguing that the state’s corporate, gambling and mining interests need to pay more in taxes.
In what was billed as a progressive State of the State ahead of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s speech next week, former state Sen. Sheila Leslie called on the public to finance campaigns, saying even her fellow left-leaning lawmakers “turn a blind eye” to the influence of campaign contributions.
Leslie said the state’s powerful interests use contributions to protect their economic interests, leaving the poor to pay a disproportionate share of state taxes.
“If Nevada taxed mining, corporations, and wealthy interests as much as we do the poor, we could build the best schools, community colleges and universities in the country,” she said, according to prepared remarks. “Nevada does not have a resource or a money problem. We are a wealthy state.”
Leslie, a Democrat from Reno who served in the Assembly for 10 years before moving up to the Senate, narrowly lost her election in November to Republican Sen. Greg Brower.
Her speech from Las Vegas was on behalf of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a coalition of progressive groups.
Both houses of the Nevada Legislature are controlled by Democrats, but that doesn’t mean they’re progressive.
On the issue of taxation, Democratic leaders have declined to commit to trying to raise revenue. Indeed, in an education plan released Wednesday morning, Democratic lawmakers talked about expanding all-day kindergarten and preschool education, but did not discuss how to pay for it.
Leslie, by contrast, called for Sandoval and legislators “to stand up to some of the most powerful corporations in the world and tell them to pay their fair share.”
Sandoval is scheduled to give his State of the State speech on Wednesday in Carson City, as well as release his budget for the next two years. He has committed to extending all or some of $620 million in taxes that would otherwise “sunset” later this year in order to prevent cuts to education and social services.
But he also said earlier this week he would veto any tax to raise additional money, arguing that the state’s economy is still recovering.
Leslie said existing taxes aren’t enough.
“Extending the infamous sunset taxes... is no mark of valor,” she said. “It’s the path of least resistance that won’t amount to a drop in the bucket considering how far down Nevada has slumped.”
She said Nevada poor pay 10 percent of their income in taxes, while the rich pay 1.5 percent.
She said Nevada should tax gold mining at 20 percent, like Wyoming does, and put a “nominal” tax on corporate profits.
“If these things happened, we could build a first-class educational system, from pre-K through post-graduate,” she said.
She called on lawmakers to start the process of repealing the same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution.
She said “the oligarchs who benefit from the system that makes them rich use large campaign contributions, laundered through ever-increasing and creative political action committees to create even greater political muscle to protect their economic might.
“Corporate contributors later demand tax perks, lax oversight and special interest legislation as the price of their support.”
She said if campaign contributions were divorced from politics, “more lawmakers would make decisions based on the long-term health of our state.”