People on the public payroll should be banned from Legislature |

People on the public payroll should be banned from Legislature

Bob Thomas
Special to the Appeal

This is my semiannual essay on “tax-takers” vs. “taxpayers.” I do this prior to every legislative session because during the two-year interim we always get a new crop of refugees who don’t know one from the other, and perhaps a few high school and college graduates who, during the past two years, may have matured enough to learn the difference.

Now please don’t think I am downgrading tax-takers. In our society they are the functionaries of government, education, law enforcement and firefighting. Some of the most dedicated people I know are tax-takers, especially in state and local government.

On the other hand, we taxpayers are the private sector slaves who require the services of tax-takers in order to have time to do our own jobs. In the old days when communities were small, many of the tax-taker services were performed by volunteer taxpayers. I can remember the Carson City volunteer firefighters. Their response time was so fast it was a sight to behold. And our sheriff’s department had volunteers riding as “second-man” in patrol cars. In fact, I was a special deputy under four sheriffs. But as time passed and our community grew, citizens opted for full time tax-takers to handle those services.

The question I am usually asked is, “Well, don’t public employees pay taxes, too?” Yes, they pay taxes, but the taxes they pay are but a fraction of the tax dollars they take as payment for their services. That means they are net tax-takers.

Here comes the zinger: Every time there is a state or local government tax increase, taxpayers pay the full 100 percent of the increase, getting nothing additional in return. When that tax increase results in a raise in salary for tax-takers, they will pay back only 20 percent of that raise in taxes.

Which brings me to the point of this essay: Should tax-takers, whose incomes are derived from tax dollars, be allowed to serve as legislators where they can introduce and vote for legislation that gives them salary and benefit increases through increased taxes? They now vote themselves pay raises with tax dollars and we taxpayers have nothing to say about it. While it is true that classified state employees are prohibited from holding partisan political office, teachers and other classes of public employees and retirees are not prohibited.

Four years ago we had 16 tax-takers serving as legislators. Sixteen of 63 doesn’t sound like much to be concerned about. But when you consider that most tax increases are passed by very few votes, 16 legislators who will usually support tax increases really stacks the deck in favor of passage. Why did the 16 almost always vote for a tax increase? Because the gang of 16 was made up of three or four subgroups – teachers, firefighters, law enforcers and prison guards, and they scratched each others’ backs by supporting each other’s salary increase bills.

To you who will accuse me of blowing smoke, just remember that I served three terms in the Legislature and I know what I’m talking about. As a matter of fact, it got so bad in my last term that I authored legislation to prohibit all tax-takers from serving as legislators. And I had enough cosponsors to get the bill passed, but it died on the Senate side. Sen. Bill Raggio said he couldn’t support such legislation because he had too many colleagues and friends who were tax-takers, and he needed their votes.

This is serious and needs to be addressed. But with the political makeup of the Legislature, it doesn’t have a chance of being considered. It will take a majority of conservatives in both houses before legislation can ever be passed prohibiting tax-takers from serving as legislators.

At the very least, we must stop tax-takers from serving on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the taxation committees. Moreover, we must also prohibit them from voting on tax legislation. This is the most blatant conflict of interest facing Nevada! We taxpayers are being royally blind-sided. It may take a referendum.