Commentary: If you want to stay in business, get into politics

"I actually don't get calls from constituents. I mostly get calls from teachers and state employees."

That is what a legislator told me yesterday when I asked what she is hearing from constituents.

She's not hearing from her voters, but she hears from teachers and state employees almost daily telling her how important their job is. And employee union lobbyists stop her in the hall telling her there just isn't any more room to cut their budget.

So it's not surprising that legislators are looking at what taxes and fees they can increase to make up this budget gap. They aren't hearing from us " the people paying those taxes and fees!

Fortunately, this legislator understands that raising taxes in a recession will cause more job losses in the private sector. But you're not off the hook, folks!

Legislators are looking at every tax and fee to see what they can get away with raising " like a 10-cent tax per plastic grocery bag (SB397) " but they need to hear from you, private sector workers, to know how these increases will impact you.

If you want to stay in business, you better find some time for politics.

Many in Carson are saying that we need to take a good look at our state's revenue structure. But we better look at the state's spending habits, too.

Nevada places a heavy tax burden on tourist-related industries. In a recession like this one, where business and vacation travel are dramatically reduced, Nevada's budget is even more vulnerable. That is one reason why Nevada is projected to have the highest budget gap (37.6 percent) of any other state in 2010, according to a February 2009 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But between 1994 and 2005, state spending increased by 147.5 percent. (Population growth and inflation justify a 93 percent increase in state spending during that time.)

We cannot ignore that in 2005 the Legislature spent $600 million more than the state budget. How many of those "one time" expenditures are now part of the state's operating budget?

Sure we need to take a serious look at our tax structure, which is why the Legislature should seriously consider Sen. Raggio's bill, SB399, which calls for an independent study of existing taxes and the stability of revenue sources.

While you can study the tax structure all you want, there is no perfect formula. What we need to do is break the pattern. In bad times, the Legislature comes to us for revenue. Then in the good times, they grow the budget beyond a sustainable level.

And here we are again.

It's time to break the pattern. Call your legislator (684-6800).

- Randi Thompson owns As You Wish, a government and media relations firm.


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