Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2014

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From the publisher:

Low taxes, low expectations?

When business speaks, America listens. The evidence is all around us.

Although business leaders are sometimes criticized as not being progressive enough, many of the great philanthropic, social, economic and political events of the past century were driven by American business.

Few forces in our society can promote change the way our business community can. It stands to reason that few forces can protect the status quo as well, either.

Such deep thoughts spirit me back to a lobby discussion after the Brookings Institution presentation at UNLV a few weeks ago.

About a hundred of us had just listened to a presentation on the challenges facing our state. This one was delivered in a sophisticated, detailed and relatively objective manner — in what may well come to be known locally as the “Brookings style.”

If you already know the laundry list of issues plaguing the valley, you can skip to the next paragraph. If not: lack of economic diversity; deep education funding cuts; untapped potential for solar and wind energy; an infrastructure that meets neither present nor future needs; a general reduction in services that take a community from good to great. Enough already.

It all led up to the conversation in the lobby, which spawned a few questions I hadn’t heard before.

Such as: Is it really that great for Nevada to continue to promote itself as a low-tax state? Is that the best sales pitch to companies that are perhaps thinking of moving? Aren’t there enough other good reasons to move your business here?

No, I’m not pushing for any tax increases here, although given the state of things, they may prove inevitable. I’m just repeating a question that is starting to pop up in these parts — and not just after Brookings presentations, either.

I have met and come to know many of the people who relocated businesses here during the past decade of publishing this business newspaper. I have watched many of them assume positions in community organizations, trade associations and charities, all good for Southern Nevada.

Such active involvement provides a new arrival a chance to hear firsthand what our challenges are. That kind of experience helps people make decisions from an educated perspective and to put them in some sort of context.

It also provides a different experience from simply latching onto a convenient ideology, one popular example being libertarianism.

To summarize much quite briefly, libertarianism is a set of beliefs relating to individual liberty, free thought and conduct. Part of the philosophy includes a general opposition to institutions such as government, and concepts such as taxes and welfare or public assistance.

It is occasionally observed that the historic popularity of libertarianism in Nevada was a perfect match with our Old West heritage, and that the emphasis on personal freedoms made it possible for certain things to get legalized here in the first place.

In our state, it’s easy to support personal freedoms as part of who we are, and whom we may always be. But many who say they’re “libertarian” in their views may actually be simply hoping to avoid discussion as to how we pay for what government provides. You see, to a lot of those who fallen under its spell, a libertarian philosophy has simply come to mean no taxes, with little regard to the realities of our society or the long-term issues that face our state.

For these folks, energy gets put into complaints about a school system that seems to them bloated with overpaid and underworked administrators and teachers. This conflicts with reality.

Yes, we have some heavy administrative overhead, and we have some teachers who lack sufficient skills. But these are not the largest problems confronting education, and even if they were, deep budget cuts will not resolve them.

But whether they’re run by armchair libertarians or simply trying to boost profits, businesses that move here primarily because of low taxes are perhaps saying something about the services they expect from their new home state. They may be telling us, for instance, that things such as education are not so important to them.

But a few such things remain important to the rest of the business community, and when it speaks, people listen.

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