Something Wicked This Way Comes

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, October 13, 2003

Throughout the marathon 2003 Legislature, a distinct but unacknowledged message kept coming at Silver State taxpayers.  Recent polls suggest that taxpayers did, indeed, notice it.

It was an attitude—a vibe—coming off many of Nevada’s state government, local government and school district employees and their unions whenever they publicly spoke or wrote.

“We’re the important people now,” it as much as said. “We’re the public, and you taxpayers exist in our system. Now your role is to serve and support us.

“So … please shut up—and hand over your wallets.”

That attitude, in the presumptions of now-infamous Assemblyman Wendell Williams, had for years been growing ever more overt. But the degree to which it has penetrated the public sector is widespread—most evident recently, perhaps, in the willingness of City of Las Vegas bureaucrats, when asked about Williams’ fraudulent pay records, to casually deceive reporters.

Yet it was perhaps October 7 that the attitude most emphatically became incarnate.

That was when a gaggle of militant pickets from the “Clark County Education Association” teacher union descended onto the Las Vegas Strip. The union just had to express its ire, once again, at state lawmakers who’d had the gall to oppose higher taxes. Union bosses also were miffed that precisely those legislators were being honored that evening by hundreds of respected citizens at a Nevada Policy Research Institute gala.

Mere self-expression, however, was not the union’s goal. Marching along Strip sidewalks and baffling out-of-town tourists with picket signs they don’t understand, is done only in order to get on mass TV. It’s from that platform the union wanted to send out its real message.

The first part of that message:

“So what if most Nevadans oppose higher taxes? We didn’t care before the sessions and we don’t care now. Bottom line is that more taxes flowing into school budgets means more cash flowing on into our union coffers. So be advised: We and our Big-Casino chums are still the most powerful players in the state, and everyone still has to reckon with us. Nevadans don’t want higher taxes? Tough. Lawmakers should prepare to again sell constituents out.”

CCEA bosses communicated this message simply by holding the demonstration. In effect the picketing was a reply to last Sunday’s news about the Magellan Research polls. Taken over the Labor Day weekend, the surveys had shown that politicians—whether lawmakers or the governor—who went along with CCEA tax schemes during the Legislature dropped significantly in the voting public’s esteem. On the other hand, legislators who fought the tax hikes significantly rose in public popularity.

The second part of the CCEA bosses’ message hid in the subtext behind the picketers’ signs—signs that blamed Assembly Republicans for the Legislature’s delay in adjourning and tagged them for some districts’ tardy receipt of state funds.

The CCEA and Assembly leaders had ceaselessly blared this allegation during this year’s special sessions. But then as now the message was not honest.

True, Assembly Republicans did garner massive media attention by refusing to vote for taxes as high as the CCEA wanted. Yet what mainly delayed adjournment of the Legislature—and so, temporarily, some state education funds—was bitter-ender commitment by Assembly leaders, gamers and the CCEA to a lethally destructive gross receipts tax (GRT).

Whenever a tax plan without a GRT would come over from the Senate, Assembly leaders would get it amended with a version of the hated tax, then return it to the upper chamber—where a huge anti-GRT majority once again made the legislation immediately DOA.

Only after the Nevada Supreme Court subverted the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement for legislative tax increases did Assembly leaders drop their insistence on a GRT. The reason? The court’s ruling had made it impossible to continue scapegoating minority Republicans for delays caused by Assembly leaders themselves.

So the second—subtextual—point CCEA bosses were making with their Strip demonstrators was simple:

“Give us more taxpayers’ money or our propaganda machine will punish you. We can say anything; standing in our way will only mean pain.”

It is evident that, behind the amorphous vibes and attitudes noted at the start of this essay, something quite hostile to citizen self-government is taking shape.

Over the last three decades, by creating a politicized state school system nearly impossible to penetrate, much less reform, the teacher union successfully marginalized Nevada’s parents, children, and dedicated teachers.

Now, claiming ownership of government itself, the union is out to marginalize Nevada voters as well.

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

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