Another Dennis, our Tribune colleague in columny Dennis Myers, wrote a splendid piece on Nevada corporate welfare in the current Reno News & Review. Alas, a couple of pages could only cover the hall of famers, our gambling, ranching and mining industries. We have many more hogs at the public trough, so let's root through the swill for some real low life truffles, future contenders for the Silver State corporate welfare hall of fame.
TAHOE QUEENS. With Gomorrah South gambling guru Steve Wynn now sitting on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, we witness a new attitude about the future of the lake - a new spirit of cooperation, a desire to work things out, to balance the interests of residents, environmentalists and businesses. Mayday! That's corporate welfare code for four lane blacktops and people movers built with taxpayer funds.
REDEVELOPMENT RIPOFFS. Local dignitaries constantly proselytize the wonders of redevelopment agencies as the engines which will drive the revitalization of aging city cores. Right. Right off a cliff.
They really serve to subsidize the gambling industrial complex. Government apologists like to say that redevelopment dollars spark new private sector investment in downtown areas, creating new jobs. But the impacts created by those new jobs largely lie outside downtown. Parks, roads, schools and other growth-spawned necessities should have new tax revenue to pay for them. But the additional taxes generated downtown stay downtown. The numbers are staggering.
Sparks established its redevelopment district in 1976. Reno followed seven years later. This year, a whopping 78 percent of downtown Sparks property taxes, about $3.7 million, will go toward redevelopment. Reno will kick in about $6.9 million, representing 51 percent. Over the past decade, the Rail City shunted about $26 million, Reno about $41 million to city core projects.
The redevelopment districts place a backdoor income tax on you and me. Those who live outside the downtown areas are forced to make up the difference through higher taxes and fees. Has $67 million made us the tourist mecca of the western world? The brahmins of the bistros still bewail this stagnant market which nonetheless generates 20 and 30 percent annual returns on capital investment.
ADDING INSULT TO INJURY. Imposing a countywide room tax was supposed to pay for new parks and promotion of the area. Almost 40 years later, a pittance has been spent for the locals and not enough on advertising. Most of the money went toward overbuilt, underutilized convention and sports facilities the gambling industry wanted. Now come new visionaries who say what has cost us so dearly stands obsolete. One bank economist basically wants to scrap the Reno-Sparks Convention Center for a new one in downtown Reno.
ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING. As if all of the above were not enough, the big boys have rigged the tax laws to give them breaks when they don't meet profit projections. Over the past couple of years, John Ascuaga's Nugget, the Reno Hilton and the Riverboat have won huge property tax decreases on grounds of deficient earnings.
CASINO QUEENS. The gambling industrial complex wants new tax breaks from the legislature to build low cost housing for its worker bees. Big government should butt out and let the private sector solve the problem by paying its employees a living wage.
DUMB GAMBLERS. The Washoe County Commission's Child Protection Citizen Task Force and Reno Gazette-Journal publisher Sue Clark-Johnson's elitist Forum for a Common Agenda recently arrived at a common conclusion: gambling and business executives need education about their roles in causing family stresses. That's a euphemism for lousy wages and working conditions.
"The general business community should be encouraged to implement family-friendly employment practices such as flex time, sick time or on-site child care," the task force report stated. Lots of luck. Health officials and workers attributed last May's outbreak of food poisoning at the Reno Hilton to inflexible sick leave policies which caused employees to report for work while quite ill, spreading disease to more than 1,000 people.
UNINSURED VOTERISTS. The Nevada legislature has eliminated the insurance consumer advocate's office, taking state oversight another step toward the 19th century. Only four full-time and two part-time actuaries now review voluminous company rate increase applications for the whole state while the fatcats head for the bank.
UNHEALTHY ATTITUDE. Washoe Medical Center has become a very high yield welfare case. In 1985, the current ownership convinced Washoe County to give away the long-profitable public hospital for a mere $3 million. It was worth between $60 million and $120 million at the time. Since then, Washoe Health System has poured money into building a megabucks empire without cutting costs to county residents as promised.
In this month's edition of Nevada Business Journal, Washoe Med CEO Bob Burn states "as for cost effectiveness, statistics from the Reno Chamber of Commerce have shown the cost of healthcare in the region has actually been decreasing over the last three years. We are beginning to make a difference," Burn asserted.
What arrogant, self-absorbed sophistry from the buttoned down captain of a pirate ship. Washoe Med has even collected from the county for services erroneously billed. For the truth, see the Washoe County grand jury report, still available for the cost of copying, about $2.50, at Office Depot on Plumb Lane next to Costco in Reno. It's in the ever-expanding Barbano file.
THE OLD SCHOOL OF THOUGHT. Corporate welfare suffuses the University and Community College System of Nevada. In exchange for paltry patronage, entire departments see their emphasis changed from serving students to performing research, development and employee training for donors. Even the underaged get trained for casino work under university auspices.
POWER BROKERS. Your power bills have stayed high because of Nevada's cockamamie ratemaking procedures. Utilities are allowed to charge 15 months of expenses against 12 months of revenues. The net effect is to bias rates upward over the long term. Makes cable TV look honest.
YOU CAN'T WIN. The corporate share of U.S. taxes has plummeted from 76 cents of every tax dollar in 1950 to 26 cents in 1992. The difference comes from you, me and borrowing. Jobs get sent overseas while we get squeezed.
The only way many of us will ever retire comfortably is to win a lottery, but even that fantasy is in jeopardy.
A few weeks ago, California State Sen. Tim Leslie introduced a bill to make welfare recipients in his district of Plumas and Lassen Counties return up to half of any winnings to the state. New York and New Jersey have passed similar laws, he noted.
"The average American family is paying the highest percentage of their income to the government in the entire history of the United States," he said. "I think that is outrageous. It think it is even more outrageous that an individual who has been supported by the tax dollars of that hardworking (please note that all welfare recipients are hereby labeled as lazy) family can become an instant millionaire without having to refund to the state," Leslie said.
Oh? Did they suddenly repeal the California income tax? The real message in all this: abandon hope, all ye who labor here.
Be well. Raise hell.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988. This column originally published 3/23/97.
Nevada Instant Type in Sparks and both Office Depot Reno locations.