Chuck Muth: Not all ballot issues are created equal
November 30, 2012
There were three efforts to increase taxes via the ballot this election cycle – two in Clark County and one in Carson City. All three went down in flames, laying to waste the notion by some moderate Republicans that voters support higher taxes. They don’t. Forget polls. Look at election results.
That said, consider the following: If voters want to place an issue on the ballot to, say, limit spending, they are required to collect tens of thousands of signatures to demonstrate a minimal level of public support in order for it to qualify.
In fact, teachers in Nevada just spent almost a half-million dollars to gather some 150,000 signatures to qualify a new tax hike measure that’ll likely go to the ballot in 2014.
On the other hand, if a government entity such as a school district or library board or even the Legislature wants to place a measure on the ballot, they just do it, without demonstrating even minimal public support via the expensive and time-consuming signature-gathering process.
That’s bad enough. But there’s an additional insidious aspect to government-proposed initiatives, and that has to do with how PR campaigns supporting the government’s position are funded.
“While not directly campaigning for a ballot question to raise property taxes,” reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal in October concerning the Clark County school district’s proposal, “school officials have intermingled related expenses and activities with a political action committee created by four former Nevada first ladies to support the issue.”
The RJ further noted that the school district “spent $22,000 on glossy brochures that were sent to all 225,000 families of students in the country’s fifth-largest district” at taxpayer expense, adding, “The three-page brochure argues a ‘crucial need’ for the estimated $669 million for improvements at 40 schools, calling the tax increase a ‘fiscally conservative plan.'”
As Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute argued at the time, while the brochures didn’t come right out and say “Vote for the Tax Hike,” the message was unmistakable. So tax dollars were used to promote the tax hike, plain and simple, while regular citizens opposed to the measure had no such access to taxpayer-funded assets or communication pipelines and soapboxes.
We, the taxpayers, were fighting on a very uneven playing field. That we prevailed nevertheless speaks again to the depth of opposition to raising taxes despite claims to the contrary by the tax hike crowd.
When it comes to tax hike ballot initiatives, the rules should apply equally to the governing as well as the governed. As such, Nevada voters should oppose any and all government efforts to increase taxes via a ballot initiative unless it meets the same signature-gathering requirements imposed upon us citizens.
So let it be written; so let it be done.
• Chuck Muth is president of CitizenOutreach.com and blogs at MuthsTruths.com