Clinging to the ledge with humor, rancor and revulsion


from the 5-16-99 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

"Nobody in there had any damn guts."

Thus spake Assemblywoman Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, after one of numerous legislative sellouts of the public trust last week. It's become so brazen that the specifics almost don't matter. If you are not among the rich and powerful, consider yourself royally screwed.

Here are but a few recent examples.

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN WYNN. Ms. Tiffany's remark was directed at her colleagues on the assembly taxation committee who voted to transfer millions from school children to the pockets of ill-tempered Gomorrah South billionaire Steve Wynn.

She cast the lone vote against Senate Bill 521 which will lock in Wynn's taxpayer subsidy for his casino art collection.

Tiffany said the Wynn giveaway was simply "not good public policy," adding "there's only one property that can qualify for this tax exemption."

Wynn's lust for Nevada corporate welfare coincided with congressional repeal of the capital gains tax treatment for things artsy. If he couldn't nick the taxpayers via Washington, he'd damn sure hit his plantation serfs in Nevada.

Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, and the Nevada Tax Commission prevented Wynn from cashing in last year. He then sued the state and hammered the legislature for freebies.

I printed the names of the senators who picked your pocket when the Wynn bill passed the upper house. Here are those who sold you out in the assembly last week. Democrats: Bernie Anderson, Vivian Freeman, David Goldwater, John Lee, Harry Mortenson, Roy Neighbors, Bob Price. Republicans: Greg Brower, Dawn Gibbons, John Marvel. Las Vegas Democrats Morse Arberry and Mark Manendo were absent. Manendo later had his support of Wynn's loophole entered into the official record.

Some of the above are consistent chowderheads. Others have been fine public servants. Why would they vote to assuage such greed?

First, Wynn and vice industry lobbyist Harvey Whittemore can make good on threats to kill anybody's puny piece of progressive legislation. Second, there is precious little downside to paying tribute to the powerful by screwing your own constituents.

The only thing lawmakers fear is a well-financed TV campaign from an opponent. The gambling industry is not only a principal source of such cash, but casino influence is so pervasive that casinos can keep other special interest groups from supporting someone who's crossed them.

In such an environment, a few million a year stolen from school kids doesn't mean much. If students can't pass the high school proficiency test, don't blame Steve Wynn who only wants to enrich Nevada's cultural heritage. Besides, it doesn't take much education to work most jobs at his joints.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. Mobile home park tenants live in an uptight world. Someone evicted from an apartment picks up his stuff and moves. But there's nothing mobile about mobile homes, a point apparently lost on senate commerce and labor committee chair Randolph Townsend, R-Reno.

"Rent control would be the single worst thing we could do for the state of Nevada," Sen. Townsend was quoted as saying.

Las Vegas has seen a lot of speculation with mobile home parks frequently changing hands. Rents get raised to service debt and turn a profit while landlords wait for new buyers to repeat the upward-spiraling cycle.

Such gouging happens frequently in boomtowns. Mr. Townsend should know. In 1978, Reno and Sparks residents with good jobs lived in tents by the river. Housing availability was nil as people flocked here for work in eight new casinos.

Speculators caused rents to skyrocket. Some mobile home park owners received criminal convictions for taking kickbacks from dealers to evict tenants and place new purchasers in their spaces.

Only one political candidate that year had the guts to propose temporary rent controls till the crisis passed, a young Democrat named Randolph Townsend. He lost, but that issue sparked Barbara Bennett's election as mayor of Reno in 1979.

POWER PLAYS. Mr. Townsend went on to ride a white horse against electric and gas utilities. He personally funded an initiative petition to force establishment of the state's consumer advocate office. That populist crusade has made him politically invulnerable ever since. He long ago made his peace with the power companies which helped deal him his only defeat 21 years ago. He now sits in charge of deregulating the industry.

People like Steve Wynn have long wanted to build their own private power plants. Deregulation presents that opportunity. Loss of large users would cause residential rates to explode as those who remain would be saddled with much higher shares of the old system's costs.

PROPERLY TAXING. Assembly Joint Resolution 17 got the predictable cold shoulder last week. Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-North Valleys, is marshalling his troops to turn it into Nevada's second attempt to cut property taxes at the polls. But this neo-Proposition 13 needs a serious rewrite. As I have personally told Mr. Gustavson, the bill in its current form grants huge property tax windfalls to big businesses like casinos, a main reason the idea failed in 1980 as Nevada Question 6.

WHEEL ESTATE. Another measure wending its way through the ledge might just solve all the state's mobile home space problems. It would allow mobile homes anywhere. I want to be there the day someone rolls an orange 1969 Champion 12-wide next door to Sen. Townsend's upscale Las Vegas dwelling.

Be well. Raise hell.


Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and head of Casinos Out of Politics (COP). In 1998 he served as gubernatorial campaign manager for State Senator Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas.
Since 1988 Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune, where an earlier version of this column appeared on 5/16/99.

Read more about it:
Corporate Welfare in Nevada
Legislature '99
Guinn Watch '99: All Guinn, All the Time

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