I showed up at the Nevada Legislature to support Senate Bill
86, Sen. Joe Neal's attempt to loosen the gambling industry's
stranglehold over Nevada politics and government.
The hearing room was packed with all the
wrong people. Casino lobbyists in expensive black suits carpeted
the place like an infestation of beetles. Interested spectators,
avoiding the insects, cowered from the back of the bus.
After Sen. Neal, D-North Las Vegas, had presented
his case, Sen. Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas, called for testimony
from supporters. Only two stood up myself and Patricia
Fladager, former chair of Common Cause Nevada and mother of Elderport,
now known as the CitiLift transportation service for Reno-Sparks
area senior citizens and the disabled.
Shamefully, every freaking organization which
has harped for years about the need for campaign finance reform
failed to show and testify. Maybe they were out buying spray
cans of Raid.
I quoted my Daily Sparks Tribune colleague in
T. Outland, another former Common Cause chair who recently
said "there's only one issue on the books, and that's campaign
financing. Decisions are made before the gavel falls. The average
person will be impotent in changing Nevada's tax system as long
as major casinos bankroll legislators' campaigns."
It's so bad that Sen. Neal's attempt to repeal
casino owner Steve Wynn's art collection tax break [see www.neal98.org]
now requires a two-thirds vote of each house. This is the result
of the 1996 "Tax Restraint Initiative" pushed by Rep.
Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.
Supposed to make taxes harder to raise, it's had
the reverse effect, making tax loopholes impossible to close.
Gambling lobbyists easily engineered an end run by allowing county
commissioners to jack up sales taxes for corporate welfare programs
like depressing the Union
Pacific railroad tracks through downtown Reno.
In Gomorrah South, a huge water pipeline project
will be paid for by the great unwashed with not one penny from
gaming, which caused the growth necessitating the plumbing.
PASS THE CRACKERS. I now know how chopped
liver feels. The news media reported nothing from us peons who
testified on behalf of the bill.
The worst offender, as usual, was the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Other daily papers around Nevada printed an account of the hearing.
The Reno paper chose to ignore the most important campaign finance
reform ever proposed in the state.
They did devote barrels of ink to a closed meeting,
hosted by the Gazette-Journal, at which casino execs divvied
up new room taxes which the industry wants. The paper editorialized
glowingly about the corporate huddle, never bothering to disclaim
its conflicts of interest. Its publisher sits on Harrah's board
of directors and derives a substantial salary therefrom. Harrah's
will be a principal beneficiary of the room tax-subsidized programs.
Worse, the Kazoo-Journal still refuses to inform
its readers that two Union Pacific executives sit on the board
of its corporate parent, Gannett Newspapers. One of them is Reagan-era
secretary of transportation Drew
Lewis, the man responsible for the railroad track depression
MISPLACED HYPHEN. Sparks resident Jerry
Watson wrote that even the Gazette-Journal's headline proved
misleading. "Casinos Back Room-Tax Hike" should have
read "Casinos Back-Room Tax Hike."
ROLL YOUR OWN. Aesop concluded one of his
fables with wise advice: If you want something done, do it yourself.
After the hearing, I went downstairs and registered
as an unpaid lobbyist for an organization I'm forming called
Casinos Out of Politics, or COP. We diehards will show up to
support reform for the rest of this legislative session, but
my expectations are lower than the morals of an average corporate
I've been collecting pledges of support for months.
A lot of people and organizations must stay in the closet until
the legislative session concludes at the end of May. To come
out early means risking retaliation by the all-powerful gambling
Fine by me. That broadly based statewide coalition
of tax protestors and progressives is growing. I recruit new
troops every day.
Initiative petitions, anyone?
They go great with chopped liver.
ROUND TWO: Senate Bill 88, Sen. Neal's
measure to increase the gross gaming tax on the largest, most
obscenely profitable casinos, will be heard on Tuesday, March
9, at 2:00 p.m. before the Senate Committee on Taxation in Room
2135 at the legislative building in Carson City. Look for information
leading up to the hearing at a new Casinos Out of Politics section
coming soon to NevadaLabor.com.
Breaking news may be posted at any hour at the "bulletins"
site of Neal98.org.
UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU. The U.S. General Accounting
Office is doubly researching our second-favorite vice. Last week,
a gentleman named John Baldwin asked me if I knew of "any
studies where the overall benefits of gambling have been compared
to the overall costs to society from gambling and conclusions
were made as to whether gambling is a net benefit or liability?"
If you have any information along that line, please
call him at (202) 512-4535 or send
him an e-mail.
The GAO has two gambling-related inquiries underway.
One is a review of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission
requested by newly lame duck Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev. The other,
to gauge the impacts of casino gambling, was requested by Rep.
Frank Wolf, R-Va., a gaming industry foe.
DARTH VADER AND GOD. After last Wednesday's
legislative juice job, Sparks golf course developer and top gun
casino lawyer Harvey Whittemore came up to me and Ms. Fladager.
He asserted that support for the bill to reduce gaming's influence
in politics came from just "you and Joe."
Last year, Sen. Neal and I listened to the Rev.
Lewis M. Anthony deliver the Martin Luther King., Jr., Holiday
keynote address before the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness
Society at John Ascuaga's Nugget.
"The Lord never sends an army. He sends one
man. One man to gather an army," Rev. Anthony said.
Dark Harvey should go read his Bible before he
underestimates the power of one man and an idea.
Be well. Raise hell.
Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based
syndicated columnist, a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News
and was campaign manager for Democratic
candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the
Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally