Las Vegas Sun

June 27, 2017

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Where I Stand:

An education about the margin tax

This is the time when voters usually start to focus — those who ever focus — on the general election just a month away. Unlike with most elections, though, many voters have been paying attention to this one for many, many years.

I am talking about the education initiative, Question 3 on the ballot, otherwise known as the margin tax. It is on the ballot simply because legislative session after legislative session after legislative session, our elected leaders — from governors to the legislators in the Assembly and state Senate — have paid nothing but lip service to the No. 1 failing in Nevada:

Education.

And now it is time for the voters to do something about it. Unfortunately, Question 3 is a flawed response to a do-nothing, status quo attitude that has failed the people and their schoolchildren for too many years. It is a perfectly appropriate reaction but, as someone who knows a great deal about gross margin-type taxes, I can assure the voters that passing Question 3 could spell disaster. But impending disaster, by itself, may not be enough to overcome a frustration that has been building to the boiling point.

Question 3 is flawed for so many reasons, most prominent of which is that it will return us to 2009 when Nevada was on its back and thousands of people in this state were on unemployment. Yes, it will raise large amounts of money, but there is no assurance that money will actually go to education.

I don’t care what the polling may show this far from the vote. With a low voter turnout — which this election shows every sign of being — anything can happen.

So what can be done? That is the wrong question. Rather, we need to ask ourselves, “What should be done?”

That answer is simple and the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, along with other well-meaning community groups, is doing just that. Whether they are successful could determine whether Nevada slips and falls back into the economic abyss we have just experienced for the next five years!

The alliance is charged with bringing new business to Southern Nevada. As hard as it tries — and it has some success — the overwhelming negative that stands in the way of our community and thousands of new jobs is, you guessed it, the underwhelming status of our K-12 education system. Being last on every list — behind Mississippi, for goodness’ sake — is not the way to attract business to Nevada.

That is why the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance has taken the lead to bring every stakeholder to the table in trying to craft a plan that will grow our public school system into what we need to be a 21st-century competitor. And it appears the alliance is having success.

Yes, it has been a quiet endeavor the past few months. How else can you get small businesses, larger businesses, the gaming industry, mining, chambers of commerce as well as teachers unions and administrators to come to the table to find the common ground? Everybody wins if the deal can be made, and everybody continues to lose if it can’t.

Assuming the teachers and business can find the common ground — and it sounds like they can — the next people we need are the elected leaders. None of this works unless those who are empowered to make it happen will join the people of this state and commit to doing just that!

That means coming out arm-in-arm — business, labor and politicians and whoever else is necessary to make this happen — and make the commitments to the voters before the vote.

If that is done, and soon, then voters are smart enough to vote “no” on Question 3 because they will give the Legislature this last chance to do the right thing.

If this deal-in-the-making doesn’t get done? I know some smart people who will vote for the margin tax even though they acknowledge it could be destructive to our economy. That tells me the “experts” who say it will fail are wrong and the people will head to the polls to vent their wrath.

With that level of frustration and emotion guiding voters in November, I would not bet against the margin tax passing. I would rather, though, bet that Nevadans will do the right thing and that the politicians — finally — will do what is right and necessary to fix what ails the state of Nevada.

Early voting starts soon. Time’s a wasting.

Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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