Nevadans may get to vote on state income tax

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted September 11, 2000

Nevada's state teachers union says it has gathered 84,000 signatures -- twice the number required -- on petitions to place a referendum on the ballot this fall, allowing Nevadans to vote on adopting one of the linchpins of the century-old platform of Norman Thomas' Socialist Workers Party: an income tax.

Nevada has never had a state income tax; they're supposedly banned. Instead, the teachers present their proposal as a 4 percent tax on the net profits of business, with a $50,000 initial deduction to "protect" small businesses -- though historically, nearly all such taxes are soon revised to steepen the "graduated" schedule so as to punish those who earn more.

And in this case, the union's proposal defines "business" to include any private citizen who itemizes business deductions on a federal tax form -- thus roping in thousands of Nevadans hard-working enough to seek extra income for their families by operating a part-time enterprise from their homes.

New tax collections generated by the scheme would flow to the state and county education bureaucracies, which is how the union justifies deducting an extra $2 per month from the paychecks of Nevada teachers -- in the form of increased union dues -- to pay for its political efforts in pushing the new tax. (Support staff are being levied only an extra $1.40 per month.)

Under the Supreme Court's Beck decision, of course, union members need only pay that part of their dues which actually funds collective bargaining; they can ask for a detailed accounting and a refund of any part of their dues used to promote such political causes. I have no doubt the Nevada State Education Association has been diligent about pointing out this provision of federal law to its members, some of whom may prefer not to be credited by their neighbors with imposing Nevada's first state income tax.

All that said, the union has every right to circulate its petitions, and (providing enough valid names are tallied) to see its proposal judged by popular vote. A free nation -- even Nevada, which has traditionally attracted enterprise by taxing and governing less -- gladly tolerates the open debate even of the kind of incredibly bad ideas that got the Russian people where they are today.

The union bosses contend their new income tax would generate more than $250 million annually in additional funding for the government school bureaucracy, which they insist would eventually benefit Nevada's children -- though historically the public schools have proved able to absorb (start ital)any(end ital) increase in funding into their layers of bureaucratic larding without measurable improvement in student performance, which instead plummets each year, once we figure in the dumbing-down of texts and tests alike.

(In the saddest example to date, a single federal judge took control of the Kansas City, Mo., school district in 1985, and spent a decade hiking taxes and forcing the district to spend $1.5 billion beyond the norm on state-of-the-art greenhouses, athletic arenas, radio and TV studios, computers in every classroom, and even a planetarium. In June of 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Missouri vs. Jenkins, finally told the judge to knock it off. The result of the jurist's decade impersonating Auric Goldfinger? On May 3 of this year, the Missouri state Board of Education stripped the troubled district of its accreditation. Despite all the billions spent, it turns out the district "has not met any of 11 state performance standards," according to The Associated Press. No measurable improvement in academic achievement could be measured; attendance rates had fallen; the high-school drop-out rate remained at 60 percent. Asked about this famous example, Nevada teachers union president Elaine Lancaster says she's never heard of the case.)

But all this is presuming the union's $250 million projection holds water, anyway. In fact, that number is based on the naive assumption that the biggest and most sophisticated business owners won't simply restructure their operations so as to show no measurable Nevada "profits," at all. (And what will happen to that promised small-business "deduction," as soon as the tax fails to produce the promised revenues?)

The Nevada Pro-Education Alliance, a group sponsored by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, vows to spend close to $5 million opposing this measure, which alliance Executive Director Kami Dempsey correctly describes as "just a back-door personal income tax."

By all means, if the union's signature count holds up, let Nevadans vote on a new income tax designed to facilitate the hiring of thousands more assistant school superintendents in charge of paperwork compliance. In an era when even the inner-city poor are scrambling for vouchers and lining up to get their kids out of the government monopoly schools, the results should prove highly informative.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site

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