Stop the surprises: Open the doors on Nevada Legislature’s secret tax meetings

Victor Joecks

You can say one “nice” thing about politicians. They are full of surprises. Consider this session.

Sen. Coffin proposed taxing illegal activities. Speaker Buckley spent months talking about transparency before the session and then forgot all about it once real decisions had to be made. Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Rogers threatened suicide. Sen. Horsford almost had an emotional breakdown. Gov. Gibbons was against taking strings-attached stimulus fund before he was for it. And Nevada’s teachers union announced it is just fine with larger class sizes after all.

That’s what’s so disturbing about the secret tax increase being negotiated by a dozen legislators behind closed doors. Politicians aren’t exactly easy to predict, and they’re going to spring a record or near-record tax increase on Nevada that would have to be passed no later than two weeks from tomorrow.

As I wrote yesterday for

Probably the most controversial thing the legislature will do this year will be to propose record or near-record tax increases. But average Nevada citizens don’t know which taxes are going to be increased, how much they’ll go up, or whether entirely new taxes will be created.

Nevadans remain in the dark because Buckley and a dozen or so other lawmakers are holding closed-door meetings to discuss how they are going to raise taxes. Apparently, Buckley’s commitment to transparency is so shallow that it doesn’t even extend to the entire legislative body, nor does she even recognize how inconsistent her own behavior is…

Some citizens will think that the final tax package is much too large. Some will think it’s too small. Some will think that different taxes should have been increased or lowered, and still others will argue that Nevada didn’t need to raise taxes at all. But since the process of crafting the package has been so opaque, Nevada’s citizens will barely have time to learn about the bill, let alone share their opinions with their elected officials, before the bill goes to a vote. Let’s at least hope that, unlike with the federal stimulus bill, legislators themselves will have time to read this one before they vote on it.

Tyrus Cobb also makes this point today in the Nevada Appeal:

Discussions are apparently ongoing behind closed doors in something called the “core group.” It is not, we are assured, a “secret group.” However, neither the Legislature nor the public have had the opportunity to see, hear or subject these budget proposals to debate and analysis.We are dismayed that after promising a fresh slate of new ideas and new taxes, none has appeared and we, the public, after waiting so long, will have at best 10 days to scrutinize the final budget.

These secret meetings should be open and transparent. Those politicians are playing with our money, and we deserve to know all of the surprises they have up their sleeves.

Bonus question: How embarrassed should our legislature be that NPRI has publicly released a state budget before they have? I’m just saying.

And it’s in line with current tax-collection projections without the room tax, stimulus funds or selling off the tobacco settlement.

Maybe that’s why NPRI isn’t elected to any office. We’ve got no surprises – just a consistent application of the principles of limited, accountable government, free enterprise and individual liberty.