Effort for big tax increase on casinos more than tilting at windmills | NevadaAppeal.com

Effort for big tax increase on casinos more than tilting at windmills

John L. Smith
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Kermitt Waters and Don Chairez are unlikely revolutionaries, but these days they may be the most dangerous men in Nevada. That’s right. Dangerous.

Chairez is the lawyer and former district judge who provided the public face for the People’s Initiative to Stop the Taking of Our Land, and attorney Waters provided about $100,000 to help bankroll the plan to counter what many consider is the misuse of eminent domain laws. They’ve tapped in to Howard Rich’s Americans for Limited Government campaign, which underwrote the Tax and Spending Control for Nevada initiative petition that passed muster everywhere but with the state Supreme Court.

Now Waters and Chairez, the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of Nevada’s Prop.-13 set, want to circulate an initiative petition that calls for a dramatic increase in the 6.75 percent tax casinos pay. Their outrageous idea is to have large Nevada casinos pay the average tax paid in other gaming jurisdictions – about 18.25 percent.

Make big casinos pay big bucks? I told you they were dangerous.

Under their evolving plan, the whopping windfall would bypass sticky-fingered legislators and proceed directly to major problem areas such as teacher salaries, indigent health care, the Millennium Scholarship, roadway infrastructure, and solar and geothermal power.

Bypass the Legislature? Now that’s dangerous.

“The last thing I want to do is give it to that Legislature,” the 72-year-old Waters says in his easy Texas drawl.

In all, it’s a big rock candy mountain that at present includes a rollback of property taxes for Nevada homeowners. It would signal a dramatic fiscal departure in a state that perennially trails the nation in funding for everything from public schools to health care.

As such, it would appear to have approximately zero chance of succeeding in the face of glossy opposition from the casino industry, which these days is busy spooning up a steady diet of sugary “Bet on Nevada” TV commercials under the general theme, “Look at all that gaming already pays for in the Silver State.”

The tax proposal is being roundly called bad for business. A recent, statewide Las Vegas Review-Journal survey showed 76 percent of voters in favor of an initiative by the Nevada State Education Association to raise the gaming tax 3 percentage points, while 50 percent oppose Waters’ revolutionary proposal.

Against a polished opponent with unlimited funding and miles-deep influence, what chance do our unlikely revolutionaries have?

Well, actually, a reasonable one.

Although only 39 percent of voters surveyed favored the big tax hike, Waters believes, with enough money to market the proposal and collect signatures, the people will come around to his way of thinking.

One of the parts of Waters’ initiative I find particularly intriguing is the healthy contribution that would go to fund the Nevada Supreme Court, which has scuttled past initiatives. Talk about making friends in high places.

Their idea seems hopeless given Nevada’s history of industry-beholden governors and kowtowing legislators, but collecting the necessary 58,628 signatures necessary to place the tax question on the ballot might be easier than their critics contend.

Next year’s Nevada caucuses will attract scores of registered voters and make them available to sign petitions. So don’t count out Waters yet.

His view of Nevada politics changed forever after he watched influential developers lobby the Legislature and win tax exemptions for golf courses.

“It was about the most outrageous thing I could think of,” Waters says.

Then he reels off a list of issues he now finds outrageous. He regularly works with Chairez on the language of questions that eventually may find their way onto initiative petitions.

If that activity isn’t revolutionary in Nevada, what is?

Chairez calls Waters “a cross between Ross Perot and Ted Kennedy,” but Waters responds that he’s basically an anti-tax guy who grew sick and tired of watching the spendthrifts run the show.

“They run this state like a plantation, gaming and the developers together,” Waters says.

Chairez adds, “We’re trying to be responsible revolutionaries.”

At the very least, their revolution will provide the ground fire that assists the NSEA to reach its goal of passing the 3-point tax hike initiative.

If their uphill battle helps distracted Nevadans finally focus on the big issues facing this state, then I say, “Viva la revolucion.”

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.