Tombstone Epitaph: Don't Blame Me

Expanded from the 7-6-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
and the 7-10-2003 Comstock Chronicle

Longtime heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis said he wanted one word on his tombstone: "Even. I don't owe anybody anything and nobody owes me." Cold and impersonal words, worthy of a warrior whose job it was to beat other people senseless.

Unlike the champ, the 2003 Nevada Legislature and Gov. Dudley Do-Right cannot lay claim to a governmental version of Mr. Louis' epitaph. They have left the state about a billion dollars in the red. As I write this on Saturday, legislative leaders are huddling with megabucks lobbyists in Carson City scrambling to find a solution before the Nevada Supreme Court does it for them.

Despite what you may have read elsewhere, the real stumbling block all along has been the casino-originated tax plan, endorsed by a gaming-controlled governor, which would let off Nevada's green felt plantation owners with almost zero new taxes. That means you and I get stuck with the bill for the growth they cause and from which they are the principal beneficiaries.

The court cannot impose new taxes, but it can expand existing ones. The most direct precedent I recall lies with a federal court order issued against some retro southern state just a few years ago. The judges ordered the state to raise taxes for education and the governor and the legislature had no choice in the matter.

Just one look at the makeup of the Nevada Supremes is enough to give a casino mogul nightmares. Justices Bob Rose, Myron Leavitt and Miriam Shearing are all varying shades of Democrat, with Leavitt as the most conservative. They also share a more ominous trait: none is seeking re-election. All these three would need is one more aggressive vote on the seven-member court to order a modernization of Nevada's tax structure. They might not get us to 2003, but they could move us to at least 1968. (Where are we now? Somewhere between 1872 and 1954.)

Last week, Carson City Nevada Appeal editor Barry Smith came up with a concise and dandy protest idea. Like the rest of us sitting with the great unwashed in the peanut gallery, he's been trying diligently to make sense of the danse burlesque on Carson Street.

"A co-worker here at the Appeal wants to know where he can buy a bumper sticker that reads, 'Don't blame me. I voted for Joe Neal'" Smith wrote.

In volunteering to pay, the Appeal employee violates the spirit of this triple-overtime legislative session.

I called Sen. Neal, D-North Las Vegas, and asked his permission to post a free printable bumper sticker at He of course said yes.

So, intrepid protestors, hie thee to the web to protest the legislative burlesque.

And don't blame me.

CABLE CAPERS. Last week, the Reno City Council sent the city's draft master cable ordinance back to its Citizens Cable Compliance Committee for more review after Charter Cable asked for a host of last minute changes. The committee, which I chair, will hold a special meeting, probably untelevised, at Reno City Hall at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 15. Our next regular monthly cablecast meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. on July 24.

In addition to the master cable ordinance, on July 15 we will consider expanding notification of federally mandated senior citizen discounts. We will also discuss a recommendation that the city council direct staff to automatically initiate the review of any increase in basic cable service rates proposed in the future. This results from Charter's recent maneuver to file for increased prices after the legal window of protest had closed.
It's actually OK to pull that shenanigan under federal regulations.

As I reported several weeks ago, Charter filed costs last August, but no rate hike notice. The window of opportunity to review or protest the validity of the costs expired last September, leaving Charter free to impose a rate hike last month without challenge.

How exorbitant are Charter's prices? Compare them with two other cable companies serving the region. The municipally owned Churchill County system, which serves Fallon residents, offers more than 60 channels plus high-speed Internet service for $64.95 per month. For $88.95, you can add all the premium movie channels. In these parts, that same set of services from Charter would cost about $130.00 per month, not including taxes and franchise fees to local governments.

USA Media serves small communities in California, including Truckee, and has somehow obtained a toehold in Verdi between Reno and the California state line. USA charges Verdi residents $21.95 for an expanded basic package which includes the local broadcast stations plus about a dozen non-premium cable channels. Charter's expanded basic costs about $40 per month.

Across the country, over 500 cities and towns now offer low-cost cable service to their residents. Nevada cable bandidos convinced our legislature to make municipal ownership illegal everywhere but Fallon. Removing ratepayer-owned systems from consideration, in the less than 10 percent of communities which have true private sector alternatives, rates drop by 75 percent or more. Charter enjoys a deregulated monopoly in this region, with 62 percent market penetration. Satellite and private signals (e.g., Quadravision), don't have enough subscribers as yet to provide true competition.

I'd like Charter to be more responsive to its customers. Better and more competitive service is supposed to win more trade. Alas, Charter approaches the public with an adversary attitude, which explains why it has lost 2,000 customers over the past year or so.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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