The code language is flying again
Former governor Kenny Guinn – he of the record near-billion tax increase – is beating the drum again for "long-term" state planning.
Just what does that really mean?
Let's time-travel back to 1998, during Guinn's initial run for governor, when "long-term planning" was one of his frequent talking points.
While such language sounded fine to many voters, a big contingent of Nevada's small-government GOP conservatives found it unsettling. To them it sounded like more intrusive government. Centralized state planning, they knew, had been destructive in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and they didn't like hearing such apparently collectivist and statist nuances coming from a supposedly Republican candidate.
Thus, in the summer of 1998, Guinn and his campaign staff faced a big problem: How could they get their candidate out of the GOP primary with the big victory he needed?
Their solution: a large, expensive and slick campaign mailer, sent to all GOP voters statewide.
Titled "An Interview with Kenny Guinn: Nevada's Next Governor," the mail piece – aimed directly at the party faithful's deepest desires – presented Guinn as a solid, low-tax, limited-government Reaganite conservative.
"When You Elect Kenny Guinn Governor," announced an exceptionally prominent headline, "You'll Be Protecting Nevada's Low Tax Heritage."
Then the candidate was asked: "How do you respond to those who say that Nevada needs to overhaul its tax structure?
"For 15 years, we've enjoyed incredible prosperity, with high employment, high economic growth, and a broadening tax base. Why jeopardize all that with new or higher taxes?
"For the last 25 months, I've been traveling our State and people constantly tell me they do not want more taxes."
To make the link to Reagan unmistakable, Guinn was "asked" to explain "who helped you develop the philosophy you hold."
"When it comes to my philosophy of government, Ronald Reagan has had the biggest influence on me," answered Guinn. "Ronald Reagan proved that just one man – with hard work and determination – can cut big government down to size and return it to the people."
Guinn went on in the "interview" to ring all of the Reaganite bells – proclaiming himself "a firm believer in zero-based budgeting," for "privatizing government services whenever that will result in better service at lower cost" and for "parental control of education." He pledged to "push hard for more charter schools" and warned against weakening Nevada's right-to-work laws.
The mailer – available on the Web at http://biz.npri.org/issues/guinn's_legacy.htm – was successful. Many conservatives' doubts about Guinn were successfully assuaged and he soon became Nevada's governor.
Once in office, however, Guinn immediately began re-inciting all the anxieties his campaign strategists had successfully tamped down. His very first State of the State message, in January 1999, opened the door wide to the higher taxes that his GOP primary voters thought he had closed just months before.
Bewailing the fact that the state budget director had had to reduce agency spending requests by almost a billion dollars, Guinn asserted – oblivious to four decades of public-choice economics research – that government bureaucrats "truly have only one goal: To better serve the public and to request the funds they feel they need to accomplish that goal." That such a "billion dollar difference" exists, he chided, "demonstrates how far apart the budgetary process is from the realities of our revenues."
Sure enough, just as soon as Guinn won reelection in 2002, he moved to end that "billion dollar difference." He submitted to the state Legislature an executive budget calling for over $1 billion in new spending – and requiring over $1 billion in new taxes.
There's much more, of course, to this cautionary tale than we have space to go into. But this episode of the Guinn mailer has been recounted because of what it reveals about the expert political advice of the state's most-expensive political strategists, all of whom worked for the 1998 Guinn campaign:
Their clear consensus was that if you're for higher taxes and want to get elected, you have no alternative but to deceive most voters without directly lying to them.
Thus the importance of code language – talking about "looking at the stability of revenues" and "revisiting the state's tax structure."
Or, most subtle of all: the importance of "long-term fiscal planning."
Steven Miller is vice president for policy at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. A version of this article originally appeared in the Las Vegas Business Press.