Make no mistake: It's not Nevada's voters and taxpayers who are clamoring for an increase in the room tax to pay teachers higher salaries. That was a backroom deal struck by one special interest (the teachers union), which wanted more money from another special interest (the gaming industry) which didn't want to pay it. So they've teamed up (not all gamers, just some) in an effort to sock it to Nevada's lifeblood - our tourists - who won't even have a vote on the scheme.
Talk about taxation without representation.
But what's done is done. The deal-makers will now draft an advisory question on raising the room tax and try to convince all 17 Nevada county commissions/board of supervisors to put the question on the ballot in November. And they'll probably succeed.
These are powerful and well-funded special interests that are scheming to raise taxes in Nevada. They include a powerful labor union, at least three powerful casinos, the entire public education bureaucracy and the Speaker of the Nevada Assembly, Barbara Buckley. In addition to the money and influence they collectively will bring to "sell" this pig-in-lipstick to "the people," they will have the enormous benefit of free public soapboxes from which to also make their case. And if history is any guide, they will do so in a disingenuous and likely even dishonest manner.
So how can the average voter, taxpayer and tourist fight effectively against such a Leviathan of special interests? They can't.
The only thing they have on their side now is the promise Gov. Jim Gibbons made to them when he was soliciting their votes in 2006. Unfortunately, the governor continues to waffle on this issue. As recently as two days ago the Associated Press reported that Gov. Gibbons "has said he'd veto tax increases passed by the Legislature but would sign a tax increase if it's backed in a public vote."
At the risk of beating a dead horse, the governor may be saying he'd support a tax increase "if it's backed in a public vote" now, but that's NOT what he pledged, in writing, to voters in 2006 while on the campaign trail. The promise he made to the people of Nevada while trying to win their votes back then was this: "I, Jim Gibbons, pledge to the taxpayers of Nevada, and all the people of this State, that I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."
Notice that the pledge the governor made to Nevada's citizens does NOT say that he will "oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes ... unless it's backed in a public vote." Those additional words simply aren't there no matter how hard some Gibbons advisers and staffers look for them. This isn't a matter of whether voters get to vote on a tax hike; it's about how a tax hike gets on the ballot in the first place.
These special interests should have to go out and gather enough signatures from average citizens to put their tax hike on the ballot in 2010 - the same process Gov. Gibbons went through to put his Tax Restraint Initiative on the ballot in 1994 and state Sen. Bob Beers went through to put his Tax and Spending Control (TASC) initiative on the ballot in 2006. The bottom line is it shouldn't be easier to put a tax hike on the ballot than it is to put a tax restraint measure on the ballot. And local elected officials shouldn't short-circuit that process by doing the special interests' dirty work by putting any "advisory question" on this year's ballot.
But if they do, the governor is the taxpayer's last line of defense. If he now breaks his promise and abandons those who thought he meant what he said when they read his lips in 2006, all hope for them is lost. So Governor, please. Stay true to your vow.
• Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit www.muthstruths.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com