Cloud Cuckoo Land

Steven Miller

In Aristophanes’ ancient comedy The Birds, our feathered friends—fed up with both mankind and the gods—establish a city in the clouds.

Sited between the earth, where mankind lives, and heaven, where the gods reside, the new city is called “Cloud Cuckoo Land.”

Here in the Silver State, our governor has revealed a heartfelt desire for something similar. Kenny Guinn is fed up with both Nevada’s down-to-earth voters—ever skeptical of government expansion—and idealistic lawmakers, who favor America’s founding values of limited government and broad citizen freedom.

What better solution, then, than to imitate Aristophanes’ birds? Maybe the Nevada Supreme Court can provide Gov. Guinn & Co. with an entirely new form of state government! One that levitates well above the humdrum priorities of our now-jettisoned electorate, while submarining well below those pesky ideals of America’s Founders.

Guinn’s is a highly revealing way to try to celebrate the Fourth of July. Upon the 227th anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence, the governor and his legislative allies are effectively highlighting how consistently they have sought to override that hallowed document’s most basic principle—the consent of the governed.

After all, that was the real sticking point between England and the colonies: the new Americans said, “You need our consent for your taxes!” And the English parliament said, “No, we don’t!”

Similarly, here in Nevada, since two months into the regular session, many lawmakers have said, “You won’t get our votes for these higher taxes unless you cut out some of the wasteful spending you’ve budgeted and drop that destructive gross receipts tax (GRT).” To which the governor and legislative leaders have repeatedly replied, in essence, “To hell with you—We’ll do what we want!”

Of course, for legislative leaders especially (the governor being a lame duck), this collision between their goals for Nevadans’ future and the goals that Nevadans themselves have for their own futures holds great political peril, potentially.

So, aware of this, these same legislative leaders for weeks have intentionally pumped out a great and deceptive fog. To hear them tell it, 15 Republicans in the state assembly are behind all the Legislature’s woes in resolving the state budget.

This is unprincipled scapegoating—pure and simple.

The fact is, even if the brave band of small-government Rs in the Assembly were to flee the field today—giving Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins each of their votes to cast however he wished—the spastic incoherence of the Nevada Legislature would lurch blindly on, entirely uninterrupted.

That’s because the truly paralyzing disagreement all session has never been the size-of-tax-increase dispute between lower-house Rs and Ds. It’s always been the complete lack of accord throughout the entire Legislature—and most especially between the state senate and state assembly—on the kind of tax to be passed.

In the state senate, Ds and Rs both regularly vote down every incarnation of the gross receipts tax. An example is the “Universal Business Tax,” or UBT. State Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Reno, an experienced businesswoman, almost single-handedly destroyed the UBT by tagging it, aptly, the “Up Your B-tt Tax.”

Still, several times the state senate did pass and send to the assembly non-GRT tax legislation—only to see it immediately amended by Speaker Perkins, majority Democrats and Nevada Resort Association lobbyists to again include some version of the GRT.

Which, of course, always makes the Assembly legislation, back in the Senate, dead on arrival.

This is the Legislature’s real logjam, but how much have you heard about it?

For months Legislative leaders and our egging-on governor have all shirked public responsibility for their central role in state government’s ongoing paralysis. Much easier to rant about a small and ultimately powerless—but supposedly “tyrannical”—minority than to admit to the public how much of its time and money has been wasted twiddling with the NRA’s agenda, against the interests of most Nevada taxpayers.

Which brings us to the two other goals of scapegoating Assembly Republicans:

First, it distracts Nevadans from the very simple solution the state constitution already offers Guinn and legislative leaders: Just pass the tax increases with the simple majority you already have and then submit those increases to an up-down decision of voters. Of course, this idea terrifies the Big Taxers; they fear the people.

Second, as long as the demonizing is believed, it appears to justify asking the Democrat-heavy state supreme court to simply impose the Guinn-Perkins tax structure on Nevadans by fiat.

Then we’d really be in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

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

Steven Miller

Senior Vice President, Nevada Journal Managing Editor

Steven Miller is Nevada Journal Managing Editor, Emeritus, and has been with the Institute since 1997.

Steven graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna). Before joining NPRI, Steven worked as a news reporter in California and Nevada, and a political cartoonist in Nevada, Hawaii and North Carolina. For 10 years he ran a successful commercial illustration studio in New York City, then for five years worked at First Boston Credit Suisse in New York as a technical analyst. After returning to Nevada in 1991, Steven worked as an investigative reporter before joining NPRI.