Forcing alternatives to tax hikes

Democrats hate it. Government bureaucrats fear it. Many in the media despise it. Even some Republicans run from it like scalded dogs. "It" is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge which Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has been championing for over 20 years now.

The pledge is really quite simple, and one can readily understand why so many big-government types loathe it with every fiber of their being. Elected officials who take the Pledge promise the voters that they won't support tax increases. Period.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons signed the Pledge last year. But not only did he take the Pledge, he's sticking to it. And that's driving the big-government crowd bonkers.

As the legislative sausage-grinders go about their business in Carson City this year, everybody and their uncle has his hand out demanding "mo' money, mo' money, mo' money"! Which has tax-hike proponents coming out of the woodwork ... as if the largest tax hike in Nevada's history just four short years ago wasn't enough.

But Gibbons just keeps saying no. Which is slowly but surely changing this discussion in a dramatic way.

For example, knowing that the governor will veto any legislatively-passed tax hike, Republican state Sen. Dennis Nolan and others tried to go around him by floating a trial balloon in which the Legislature wouldn't pass a tax hike for road construction directly, but instead put such a tax hike on the ballot in 2008. But Gov. Gibbons shot that one down, too, saying that any ballot initiative to raise taxes has to come via the signature-gathering citizen petition process, not the Legislature.

So now legislators are being forced to think the unthinkable: Controlling spending.

Instead of asking for the moon ... and getting it ... the big-government crowd is being forced to live within its means. They are being forced to consider setting spending priorities. They are being forced to look for waste, fraud and abuse to cut. They are being forced to look for duplications in services to cut. They are being forced to look at privatizing some things that are more expensive when government does them. They're even being forced to start questioning whether some of the things the government is doing are things the government should be doing in the first place.

For example, maybe the $200 million tax subsidy going to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority now being used to print up glossy magazines and such could be better used to relieve traffic congestion for all the tourists already coming to town.

Or maybe the law requiring contractors to pay inflated union wages on school construction and road-building projects should be scrapped. Or maybe we should deport all the illegal aliens currently residing at taxpayer expense in our state prisons. Or maybe the failed class-size reduction program should be deep-sixed. Or maybe targeted school vouchers should be extended to parents in over-crowded public schools rather than building expensive new buildings. Or maybe Nevadans should be allowed to buy health insurance on the open market from outside the state. Or maybe...

You get the picture. None of these, and other ideas, have ever been seriously considered while state legislators had a blank check courtesy of the taxpayers' ATM card. Thanks to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge and Gov. Gibbons' unwavering commitment to it, that era of unchecked, unrestrained government growth just may be coming to an end.

• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a limited-government public policy organization


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