Guinn makes his sales pitch, but can he close the deal? | NevadaAppeal.com
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Guinn makes his sales pitch, but can he close the deal?

by John L. Smith

The easy part is officially over.

After months of talking around Nevada’s ailing budget numbers, Gov. Kenny Guinn in Monday night’s State of the State address finally cut to the bottom line: a tax increase over two years of $1.1 b-b-b-billion.

Holy mackerel.

That’s a lot of money.

Not only did the governor call for quick action to offset the state’s estimated $704 million budget shortfall, but he promoted the need for a dramatic revamping of the tax structure and an additional $300 million in new and expanded programs.

Guinn is no Tony Robbins when it comes to public speaking, but he stressed the importance of jacking up a wide variety of taxes in order to improve the lives of Nevada’s children, seniors and mentally ill.

Along the way, he called cowardly those who don’t share his vision. (Paging Assemblyman Bob Beers.) Pausing more than 30 times for applause, again and again, Guinn invoked the plight of Nevada’s children. The schoolchildren. The poor children. The Millennium Scholarship children.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Legislature,” Guinn said in his most effective moment, “I refuse to balance this budget on the backs of our children, senior citizens and the poor.”

Bully for you, governor.

But you have your work cut out for you.

From full-time kindergarten for at-risk elementary schools to continued funding for his Millennium Scholarships, increases in teacher salaries and books and supplies, to $175 million more for the university and community college system, Guinn’s budget calls for dizzying increases that figure to be cuffed around but good by some of those “cowardly” legislators who dare to question a $1.1 b-b-b-billion tax increase.

Although Guinn spoke like a man who had made final the sale, there’s still plenty of wiggle room. Between Beers’ rather uncowardly questioning of the emperor’s cut of cloth, the usual liberal-conservative party politics, the North-South skirmishes, and the reality that Nevadans are financially worse off today than they were before Sept. 11, 2001, Guinn’s call to arms isn’t a sure thing.

The governor, his Task Force on Tax Policy, and gaming lobbyists have worked for months to sell the media on the importance of making sweeping changes and the need for a b-b-b-billion bucks in new revenues.

By Nevada standards, Guinn’s plan is the equivalent of King Kong tearing the silver dome off the Capitol and shouting, “Show me the money!” Many corners of the media appear sold, and certainly the casino industry is glad to see a public announcement of a wide variety of taxes not directly tied to their coffers.

But are the people really sold?

I don’t think so. Not yet, anyway.

Problem is, Guinn’s plan will do little to improve our quality of life for the foreseeable future. And people can be short-sighted and intimidated by b-b-b-billion-dollar talks.

Unlike my fiscally conservative colleagues, I have long believed in throwing a lot of other people’s money at social problems. Money isn’t the only answer, but it always helps.

Just ask the rich.

But that’s the funny thing about the monied. They almost always insist on keeping their money.

So expect the $450,000 business gross receipts tax minimum to rise and a few of the multimillion-dollar enhancements to be thrown overboard during the Legislature, if only to drop beneath that daunting b-b-b-billion-dollar figure.

Before it’s over, some heretic will pop up his head and suggest that Gaming Inc. did a better job of spinning the issue than accepting increased responsibility. And they’d be right.

But give Guinn credit for finally stepping up and making his beliefs known: He believes we need to pay a lot more taxes if the state is to stop being America’s social service doormat.

“So, tonight let us all come together as Nevadans in a great spirit of unity and purpose and build a kind of Nevada where future generations will look back on this night and remember, `We seized the moment. We seized the moment, we made the tough decisions, we did the right thing.'”

Now that’s a sales pitch.

Let’s see if he can close the deal.

John L. Smith’s column appears Wednesdays in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.