Fake Friends of the Republic

Steven Miller

Hypocrisy, said the sage, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. In Silver State politics today, this phenomenon runs rampant.

For decades predatory special interests have subverted Nevada representative government, but now, because that jig may be up, they’re attempting to hide—of all places—behind the good name of representative government itself. Constitutionally limiting politicians’ power to commandeer the resources with which we sustain our lives is illegitimate, we are told, because it supposedly would mean repudiating America's republican form of government.

What is putting our looter class in such a nonsensical frenzy, of course, is the launch of TASC—the Tax and Spending Control for Nevada initiative. Right on its face, TASC promises to “Guarantee the people of Nevada that they shall henceforth hold the final Constitutional authority when efforts are made to increase their state or local tax burdens.”

Tax-consuming interests find this idea horrifying. How can you continue looting taxpayers against their will if those same taxpayers, under the Nevada Constitution, get final say? How can you continue advancing socialism through the incremental growth of government, if government can only grow when the people allow it to?

The underlying problem for Nevada’s government-based predator class—specially privileged government unions, bureaucrats and the corrupted politicians in bed with them—is that voters have grown wise to their basic scam.

That scam, for decades, has been classic bait-and-switch: First, you incessantly cry that higher taxes and bigger government are needed to bring us better public schools, better health care and better government services. Then, when your clatch of politicians get to Carson City, you quietly shack up with the very same special interests that are behind our bad public schools, our increasingly maladapted, socialized health care system and our indifferent, slovenly government bureaucracies.

Because these unions and bureaucrats have helped you get into office, you pay them off with the new, higher taxes. You also collude with them to block any reforms that could weaken their stranglehold on the government sectors that perform so badly.

For Nevada’s amoral political class, there’s a delicious irony in this scam: By keeping in place the very problems that it promises to cure, it ensures that the same basic swindle can be run many times. In Nevada, it’s been regularly trotted out, again and again, since at least the 1960s.

A classic example was the 2003 Legislature. It raised Nevada taxes to the highest level in history, all the while telling voters the big bucks were necessary to fix Nevada’s failing public schools. At precisely the same time, however, lawmakers were bedding down with teacher union bosses and quietly approving a prohibition on using new “accountability” data—the collection of which is required to get federal No Child Left Behind dollars—“for the purpose of evaluating an individual teacher or paraprofessional.”

In other words, though year-to-year data can spotlight the teachers who regularly fail dismally to teach their students—or, alternatively, who regularly teach their students exceptionally well—that data cannot be used in Nevada government schools for accountability purposes! Amazingly, lawmakers passed this atrocity in a school accountability bill! (Specifically, Sec. 53.1(h), of Senate Bill 1, 19th Special Session.)

Bait-and-switch frauds such as this—slowly sinking into voter consciousness— have become chronic enough to discredit the incessant “Feed me! Feed me!” cries coming from state and local governments. Citizens realize that something basic has broken in our political process, and that the system of incentives within which many lawmakers now pursue their self-interest has become badly skewed.

In consequence, Nevadans are turning again to the wisdom of  America’s Founding Fathers and the ideas hallowed in our Declaration of Independence.

After all, “Governments are instituted among Men,” in order to secure our rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Because governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed, … whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, … organizing its powers in such form, as … shall seem most likely to effect [our] Safety and Happiness.” 

Which is precisely what TASC does. 

Finally, it seems unlikely that those who decry TASC’s requirement that higher taxpayer burdens have voters’ approval, even know their American history.  

When the U.S. Constitution itself was ratified, it was through popular, democratic assemblies—through, effectively, an end-run around the state legislatures of the time. 

After all: The decision was important.

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.