Other People's Money Yours
Expanded from the Sunday, 2-1-2004, Daily
Sparks, Nev., Tribune
2-5-2004 Comstock Chronicle
Sometimes, even the most innocuous fluff can carry a weighty lesson. In Norman Jewison's 1991 film "Other People's Money," Danny DeVito plays a guy you'd expect of DeVito. In this case, he's a loathesome Wall Street predator hungering to consume a venerable manufacturing company run by Hollywood's greatest hero, Gregory Peck.
The highlight of the film, and the major reason I watch whenever late-night cable beckons, is the stockholder meeting debate between DeVito's swine and Peck's elder version of Atticus Finch.
Corporate father figure Peck leads off with a magnificent moral tirade about family, community and company. Can the diminutive DeVito possibly prevail against the morally right and righteous rage of Captain Ahab? With Jerry Sterner's script, yes.
The corporate raider rises (to about Peck's beltline) and says "Let's get one thing straight. This company is dead. Don't blame me, it was dead when I got here."
He then lectures the hostile crowd assembled on the company's factory floor about how their rustbelt product has been rendered obsolete by new technology.
"The last thing I want to own is part of a company with an increasing share of a declining business," DeVito intones. Sterner then uses the classic example of obsolescence, comparing the fictional New England Wire and Cable's products to buggy whips.
"I'll bet the last company that made buggy whips made the best damn buggy whip you ever saw," DeVito growls.
The messenger may have been flawed, but the message prevailed and DeVito took over Peck's aging corporation, cut it up and sold it off, as the parts were worth more than the whole.
Which brings me to the Truckee Meadows of today.
Why in hell do we continue to invest in buggy whips? Because the casino overlords of this town control the political process. And cowering government leaders get away with it because they are using other people's money yours.
Take into account all the property tax money poured into Sparks and Reno downtown redevelopment for the past quarter-century. Add to it all the room taxes beginning since the 1960 establishment of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. Tote up special assessments such as sales taxes which fund things like roads, mass transit and the railroad trench.
Pretty soon, you're into the billions, the lion's share of which goes to support the production of better buggy whips.
While we weren't looking, the market has made a judgment against that system. People are buying something else, and I'm not talking about Indian casinos. Gambling industry jobs today account for only about 17 percent of the employment in these parts.
While the downtown boys were tapping the till, the world moved north, south, east and west.
The split showed in recent tax voting. The wealthier south part of the valley has largely supported regressive taxes because those residents are rich enough and detached enough not to care very much about what goes on inside the McCarran ring road.
Residents in the south of Reno and north of Sparks have less and less in common with the inner, older parts of their towns.
But the tax revenues which could mitigate the impact of sprawl are controlled by the good ole boys who still want them spent the old-fashioned way on themselves.
The results are all around you. Several high schools are about to be bloated to unhealthy levels. McQueen High will soon house over 2,200 students. Expansion is cheaper than building new, smaller facilities which would do a better job of education.
The posh new neighborhoods of Spanish Springs are producing expensive new homes like bunny rabbits in springtime. But the City of Sparks has been unable to afford to build a new fire station there. As a result, response time to the north valley is currently double or more than that of an in-town neighborhood.
And last week came insult added to injury the bulk of the major hotel-casinos in the area are getting huge reductions in their property taxes, further starving the community.
This year's presidential race is all about the increasing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. That hungry gap is a doughnut in these parts. The McCarran loop is the border of the hole. Those in the sweetly glazed new areas don't much care what goes on in the black hole, but they should.
Because the high density center of that black hole is a neon-laced money pit using other people's money to make buggy whips.
We can't afford to hire Mr. DeVito to come to town to make a speech and Mr. Peck is dead.
Who will step forward to say enough?
Be well. Raise hell.
Huge property tax cut for Reno-Sparks casinos
Reno Gazette-Journal 1-30-2003
Sparks mayor says losses could be a factor in planned plaza
Reno Gazette-Journal 1-30-2003
Trench support comes from affluent areas
Opposition runs high downtown, poorer areas
Reno Gazette-Journal 11-13-2002
Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.
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