Should we allow Yucca in return for a mountain of cash?
For the Appeal
Nevada Appeal columnists Carolyn Tate and Maizie Harris Jesse touched the third rail of Nevada politics this week and, shockingly (pun intended), lived to tell about it. The duo suggested that considering Nevada’s budget problems and infrastructure needs, perhaps taxing the tarnation out of those who want to use Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste storage is an idea whose time has come.
I suspect Tate and Jesse’s opinion runs a lot deeper and a lot wider in Nevada than the powers-that-be would care to admit, polls and political posturing notwithstanding.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a state sovereignty kinda guy. And I haven’t heard a compelling constitutional justification yet for the feds being able to force Nevada to store nuclear waste from other states. That would be like the feds forcing all problem gamblers to go live in Utah. If the nuclear storage facility is to be put in Nevada, it should be something the state’s citizens voluntarily agree to. And we haven’t heard from those citizens yet.
Oh, sure, we’ve heard from elected officials. Ad nauseum. But let’s face it, a politician’s interests, guided by self-interest and funded by special interests, aren’t necessarily the same interests of the people. Recall, for example, that elected officials vehemently opposed term limits and the Gibbons Tax Restraint Initiative, but the people passed both as ballot initiatives anyway.
So perhaps it’s time Yucca Mountain was put before the people of Nevada as an advisory question on whether to try to reopen negotiations with the nuclear industry.
Many contend Nevada needs a mountain of new tax revenue for infrastructure needs. What if the citizens of Nevada were given a choice on accepting Yucca Mountain in exchange for a Yucca Mountain-sized chest of cash from outside interests, how would they vote? What if revenue from Yucca Mountain allowed us to build all the roads and schools we’d ever need? What if Yucca Mountain revenue could build us new prisons and homeless shelters? What if Yucca Mountain revenue enabled us to cut, or even eliminate, our gas taxes, our property taxes and our sales taxes?
What if, indeed.
Sure, the polls keep saying Nevadans oppose Yucca Mountain. But those polls are taken without the context of a fair exchange. Without knowing what benefits Nevada citizens might get in exchange, is it any wonder the people keep saying, “No way, Jose”?
The biggest problem with accepting new revenue from Yucca, of course, would be the Legislature. If you give those people a million dollars, they’ll spend a million dollars. If you give them two million dollars, they’ll spend two million dollars. If you give them a gazillion dollars, they’ll find a way to spend a gazillion dollars. So even this hypothetical Yucca deal shouldn’t be considered until some serious spending restraints are placed on the Gang of 63, including a 2/3 super-majority requirement to pass any budget which exceeds the rate of population growth plus inflation.
Is it time to rethink our thinking on Yucca Mountain? Maybe yes, maybe no. But let’s think about it. Merry Christmas, everybody!
• 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 http://www.muthstruths.com.