Karma's gonna get ya

Despite the temptations, a higher gaming tax would be bad public policy.

By Steven Miller
  • Friday, September 14, 2007

In almost every legislative session for 20 years, the Nevada Resort Association has tried to get taxes raised on other Silver State industries.

In the mid-1980s, this faction of the Nevada hotel-casino business fought a ballot initiative to outlaw a state income tax — until it was modified to allow a corporate income tax.

In 1987, the NRA pushed hard for the 1988 Price Waterhouse-Urban Institute study, designed from the beginning — noted its chief proponent, Assemblyman Marvin Sedway — to “buy a patsy” set of consultants to recommend higher taxes. High-powered NRA lobbyists vigorously backed the bill, getting a “task force” added to do a “sales job” around the state “to change [its] revenue structure.” Any look at ways to control state spending was brusquely rejected.

In 1991, the NRA paid the now-infamous (and defunct) Arthur Andersen accounting firm to produce a “study” opposing diversification of the Nevada economy and attacking in-migration of new Nevadans. Their taxes, argued the paper, should be higher.

Chanting its mantra of a “broad-based business tax,” the NRA got from the 1991 Legislature the so-called Business Activity Tax. The “BAT” compelled every Nevada employer to pay the state $25 per employee per quarter. Bad public policy — punishing firms for giving people jobs — the legislation also exempted the gaming industry. The exemption angered other businesses, who demanded it be removed. Two years later, lawmakers happily complied, leaving everyone’s taxes higher.

The BAT, however, was just one tax emerging from the ’91 Legislature with NRA support. At session’s end, the total carnage included four brand new property taxes, two property-tax increases, two new taxes on the transfer of real property, a 3/4 percent increase in the sales tax and 22 new “fee” increases.

Six years later, as the 1997 Legislature ended, the NRA again was grousing about the “need” for a “broad-based business tax.” News reports had major NRA casinos maneuvering behind the scenes in support of a teacher union ballot proposal for a state corporate income tax.

The NRA eventually let the teacher union carry that ball alone (whereupon the state supreme court ruled the petition measure unconstitutional). Yet, in early 1998, the NRA released another odor-emitting Arthur Andersen paper in support of new business taxes. It attacked the in-migration of new Nevada companies, arguing their taxes were not high enough to support the state services they used. The Nevada Commission on Economic Development then responded with a devastating counter-study, revealing that the one industry, if any, that was not carrying its weight in that dimension was the one represented by the NRA!

Actually, however, the NRA casinos were placing most of their tax-increase energies in a new quarter — behind the gubernatorial candidacy of one Kenny Guinn. A casino board member, Guinn had been head of the NRA-recommended commission that had flacked for the 1991 tax increases.

During Guinn’s reign, the NRA did not accomplish its bizarre goal of a massively destructive gross receipts tax on every Nevada business. It did, however, come out of the 2003 Legislature with many much-higher taxes and another, bigger, “broad-based business tax.” The 1991 BAT “head” tax was mutated into a full-fledged (and almost certainly unconstitutional) de facto personal income tax — concealed from employees by the ruse of making employers send in the funds. Bad policy had been made even worse.

Now, just within the last week, Nevada newspaper readers learned that two new ballot initiatives are being prepared to hike state gaming taxes. One, from the NRA’s old teacher-union chums, would route the higher taxes into higher teacher salaries.

However, the other — from PISTOL author Kermitt Waters — seems like something designed by Nemesis, one of the angry Greek furies. (Nemesis, incidentally, translates as “divine vengeance.”)

Waters’ tax would increase taxes for the state’s mega-casinos from the current 6.75 percent to the average paid by gamers in all other U.S. states — i.e., around 19 percent. And the moneys would go to end all Nevada homeowners’ property taxes, while raising teacher pay.

The measure combines legalized theft and Marxist redistribution of others’ earnings. But, as Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Erin Neff observed, “what's more popular among voters than raising the gaming tax? Eliminating the property tax.”

In 1991 the NRA thought it could impose a head tax on others that casinos wouldn’t pay. Oops. Then, in 2003, the NRA thought it could get taxes raised on all other Nevada businesses and escape with only a quarter-percent gaming tax increase. Oops, again.

Every time NRA operatives strike out at other industries, they create massive ill-will. Then the karma they’ve created comes back to bite them — right in the seat of their well-tailored pants.

Steven Miller is policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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