Living on the wages of sin ain't easy in the Silver State


Expanded from the 5-19-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

I'm not a lawyer, but I have some background in reading and writing the King's English. Last Friday the Reno Gazette-Journal published the text of a ballot question asking voters our opinion of increasing our taxes for road construction.

The quesion asks whether or not to approve the Washoe County Commission going to the 2003 Legislature for authority to increase levies. As usual, the ballot will contain brief arguments in favor and in opposition.

Here's the text of the latter: "A 'no' vote would advise the Nevada Legislature that voters DO NOT approve of the recommendation to index the Regional Road Impact Fee and the fuel tax to the rate of inflation, and to increase the Washoe County sales by 1/8 of a penny per dollar to fund the 2030 regional plan."

The only difference between the argument for and argument against are the words "do not," which are not capitalized in the actual text. However, since the words "do not" fail to appear again in the clause regarding the sales tax, a "no" also supports the sales tax increase.

I don't think this is an intentional shuck, It appears to be a case of bad writing and should be corrected before the ballots are printed.

I'm especially sensitive to sales and fuel tax increases. Both are toxically regressive. A progressive tax gives lower income people a break while progressively ratcheting up the percentage paid according to the taxpayer's income. The U.S. income tax used to be progressive, but has been seriously shaved and flattened over the past 30 years. The reason almost all Americans are working longer and harder for less and less pay lies in the way the various levels of government have stacked the deck in favor of the corporately wealthy. (The definitive work on the subject is "America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?" by multiple Pulitzer Prize winners Donald Barlett and James Steele, available at any library. You will find a host of reviews of their work using this website's search engine.)

Greedy billionaires like Steve Forbes have long promoted a flat tax, so that someone making $30,000 a year will pay the same percentage as someone making $3 million or $3 billion. Corporations have also been quite successul in buying politicians who pay them back by voting to reduce corporate taxes, a subject which Barlett and Steele have treated in several media.

Nevada has arguably the most regressive tax system in the country. Stories which publicize us as a low-tax state miss the big picture. Hidden taxes and fees extracted from Nevadans make us a very high-tax environment.

Nevada politicians and their corporate patroons have always loved hidden taxes, especially sales and gasoline levies. Regional Transportation Commissions both north and south are currently seeking sales tax hikes to pay for public transit systems which largely serve low-wage workers who can't afford cars. Can you say "corporate welfare" cloaked in poor man's clothes?

The virus is spreading. A senior citizens organization recently proposed a huge sales tax hike on fast food to fund Nevada's woefully inadequate prescription drug programs. They apparently don't realize that their overly-simplified non-solution merely shifts the burden from one low-income group to another.

I can't blame local governments for looking for ways to raise taxes. The Nevada Legislature is totally controlled by the gambling industry which has not allowed the world's lowest gross gaming tax to be raised since 1987. (And even then, the hike was miniscule.)

Growth stopped paying for itself about five years ago. Conservatives, led by the late Sparks Tribune columnist Ralph Heller, long questioned why Nevada governments needed continual tax hikes when revenues consistently rose faster than the rate of population growth.

The answer finally came in 1999 when the Nevada Commission on Economic Development published a study showing that creation of low-wage gambling industry jobs spawns the need for more taxes and bigger government. (See the Sept. 19, 1999, installment of this column entitled "Sen. Neal, conservatives and Gov. Dudley Do-Right agree.")

The gambling industry privatizes profits and socializes risk. The Las Vegas culinary and bartenders unions may strike on June 1 over just such issues. Casino pay is bad enough. Now, the super-profitable Las Vegas bandidos want their workers to start paying a chunk of their health insurance premiums.

This afternoon at 5:00 p.m., the The Arts & Entertainment Network (Reno-Sparks Charter Cable Channel 39) will re-air "Las Vegas -- The Money and the Power," based on the Sally Denton and Roger Morris book of similar name.

The gambling industry is the most profitable business in the United States, the journalists on the program note. Even allowing for substantial skim off the top by organized crime interests, casinos still have plenty left over for corporate "owners" to show a fat bottom line on the books kept for public consumption.

The program asserts that the gambling industry should have made Nevada a shining city on a hill, a Camelot, a place which takes cares of its people with decent wages and health care. What have the greedy bastards left us with instead? The second generation of motel children growing up on the needle-strewn blacktops of Reno's E. Fourth Street .

The Silver State remains a company town. Nevada workers have long been exploited by the dominant industry, be it mining, railroading or gambling. Nothing much has changed in more than a century.

Foreign-owned mines continue to exploit Nevada, tax free. The casinos get about a third of their world-low taxes returned to them in the form of state and local government corporate welfare programs.

And now comes a 19th Century robber baron once again endangering the public. Union Pacific Railroad wants to start running trains by remote control. No engineers aboard. I don't think they plan to depress all of their tracks into trenches to ensure against "computer glitch" accidents.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is rightly concerned about that cockamamie idea. Talk to one in person about that and other issues this afternoon at Sparks Marina Park.

Joe Carter, a Sparks member of the BLE, kicks off his campaigh for state senate at 1:00 p.m. He promises hamburgers, hot dogs, snow cones, soft drinks and music. Set your VCR to record A&E at 5:00 just in case the party runs long.

UPS ALERT. Talk on the floor at United Parcel Service in Sparks is all about the potential folding of the "day sort" shift right after Memorial Day. That can put over 100 workers and managers out of work. UPS tried to break the Teamsters Union by causing a strike in 1997. The five-year contract expires this August. Competitors have used the specter of another work stoppage to lure business away, hence the potential layoffs. [UPDATE -- Immediately after this column ran, some well-placed Teamsters Union representatives put the hammer down on UPS and the termination plan was killed, at least for the time being.]

This summer, the Teamsters contract with the operator of the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission bus system is also up for renewal. The same outfit also contracts to run the Las Vegas paratransit system. A transit strike could hit Gomorrah South any day, just in time for the hotel workers to walk out at the same time. [UPDATE — A few days after this column ran, LV bus drivers walked off the job and paratransit drivers were considering doing the same.]

Get set for a long, hot summer.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

Site composed and maintained by Deciding Factors (CWA signatory)
Comments and suggestions appreciated. Sign up for news and bulletins.