Unpopular margin tax campaign financed almost entirely by Nevada teachers

Chantal Lovell

It’s rare that a state as politically diverse as Nevada sees an issue as unifying as the proposed margin tax.

In the case of the proposed 2 percent tax on business gross revenue — billed by its few supporters as the “Education Initiative” — almost everyone has united in opposition.

Republican Governor Brian Sandoval and Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores have decried the tax, as have countless other Nevadans — Democrat, Republican or otherwise.

Opposing the tax are numerous local Chamber of Commerce affiliates, the Nevada Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Business of Nevada, multiple contractor and builder associations, the Nevada Taxpayers Association, the Nevada Restaurant Association and the Nevada Resort Association. That’s just to name a few.

Even the AFL-CIO — which had helped the Nevada State Education Association get the initiative on the ballot — in May dealt the tax scheme a major blow as its members voted overwhelmingly to oppose it.

Despite the mounting opposition from voters, politicians, organized labor and other groups — all of whom realize the harm it would do to the Nevada jobs marketwithout solving the problems in Nevada’s education system — elements of the teacher union have already injected more than $1.9 million into the campaign for the tax.

In 2012, the Nevada State Education Association gave $670,188 in in-kind donations to get the tax on the ballot, and in 2013, it gave a $1 million monetary contribution to push the unpopular tax. In March, the NSEA gave $135,000 more, and the National Education Association gave $100,000.

The only other financial contributions listed with Nevada’s Secretary of State are $1,000 from “Nevadans for the American Dream” and $250 from the “Committee to Elect Segerblom.”

Given all the opposition to the initiative, it’s likely many teachers are also opposed. Perhaps they have a spouse or child who’d suffer a layoff were the margin tax to pass. Or maybe the teacher is involved in a small business that would have to pay the tax even if losing money.

Other teachers may oppose the initiative because they see how it will hurt many students whose parents will face layoffs and lower household income. And knowledgeable educators may oppose the tax because they understand that no correlation exists between education spending and student performance.

Yet teachers — even those who oppose the margin-tax campaign — are the ones financing it. Every year, individual union members contribute thousands of dollars to the union by way of membership dues and special assessment. The union then uses those funds to push a political agenda that often conflicts with individual members’ desires and values.

Fortunately for teachers who disagree with the union’s agenda, Nevada is a right-to-work state, which means they need not remain in the union to retain their jobs. Once they are members of the teacher union, however, most educators can only exit their union during a short, two-week-long window in the dead of summer — from July 1 to July 15. Written notice must be provided to the union and, sometimes, to the teacher’s district.

Despite that narrow window, over the past two years more than 1,400 teachers across the state have made the decision to opt out of union membership. The union’s support for the unpopular margin tax may help convince hundreds more to do so this year.

Chantal Lovell is the deputy communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more, visit http://npri.org.