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April 18, 2014

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Legislators bypassed the Bank of Big Business

With the 26th special session thankfully fading into history, leaving only speculation about Gov. Jim Gibbons’ Jekyll/Hyde performance and whether the fiscal dam will hold through November, the unanswered, nagging, perennial question lingers:

When will the Gang of 63, aided and abetted by many governors, abandon its Willie Sutton approach to budgeting?

Going where the money is renders any policy decisions, much less discussions, moot because if it’s just about who has the largest vault, nuance and thought become unnecessary. Thus has the notorious Gang of 63 — with the exception of the recently concluded Survivor Session — always looked, like the brazen bank robbers they are, to gaming and to local governments to balance the budget.

And now, as Sutton eventually was, they have been caught. Some of them, like the infamous robber, also are smooth talkers, so we believe them when they have said “never again” and “next session we will do the right thing.” But as bank robbers go, unlike Sutton, the Gang of 63 is amazingly inept.

How do you make a career of going where the money is and somehow miss the Bank of Big Business, despite studies that have shown it is vulnerable to your sticky fingers and would survive the purloining of some money to thrive another day? Myopic we knew. But are they that blind?

No one should make much of the assault on gaming this session that bore no fruit, nor the industry’s stiff arm. Lawmakers didn’t need the gaming cash this time around and the industry was sick of always being the fatted golden goose.

Many inside and outside the elected elite are now doing the unthinkable, after years — nay decades — of hoping for a meaningful discussion of how this state raises and spends money: Going to the ballot to seek permission from voters to break into the Bank of Big Business.

If enough money were injected into such a campaign, it would have a reasonable chance of success, depending on whether the vehicle were a gross receipts tax, corporate income tax or sales tax on services. Although most voters understand businesses don’t pay taxes (people do), they also would realize that something’s amiss if Wal-Mart charges the same for a widget here and in heavily taxed California.

The danger of such an initiative, though, is that the Just Say No caucus — a.k.a. the board of directors of the Bank of Big Business — might decide to run an anti-tax initiative, trying to further rein in spending in a state where spending is not the problem. And which message do you think resonates more with the electorate — tax big business or no new taxes?

Thus do we arrive back at the start, where the would-be (benevolent?) thieves are thwarted by the security guards surrounding the Bank of Big Business. We have seen this movie a few times during the last decade: Both have weapons drawn, but eventually, the notorious Gang of 63 turns tail and runs.

Despite all the determination expressed during the special session, especially by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, that the bank job really will occur in 2011, no one thinks the ending will change. This is especially true if, as many expect, the state Senate grows more conservative with the addition of no-tax, no-how assemblymen stepping into vacant seats. If the Democrats, in what is looking like an ominous year for the party, lose just one seat in the Assembly, the veto-proof majority disappears. And I won’t even get into the debate (yet) over whether Rory Reid or Brian Sandoval would be willing to even consider a broader tax base, even if they Just Say No during their campaigns.

The only way the Legislature will ever take up this issue in a serious way — putting aside the problem of having so many unserious folks with titles populating the Legislative Building — is if the warring factions inside the Gang of 63 agree some truths are self-evident.

News Flash for Democrats: NPRI is not always wrong, and unions sometimes are.

News Flash for Republicans: Nevada does not have a spending problem when it comes to education and social services.

And that’s just the beginning. Few, except eternal optimists (and most of them are in PLAN), believe that will ever happen. So the ballot, which is supposed to be used as a last resort if government is unresponsive, may be the only recourse.

Like Willie Sutton, the Gang of 63 will eventually be caught. Whether it is at the ballot box, or rendered irrelevant by an initiative, they will receive a punishment fitting of their years of legislative criminal neglect.

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