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Economy

[State of the Valley]

Show them the money

If Nevada wants its continued quality of life, it’s time to put up or shut up

There’s always the Duke with his sing-song voice, the miles of attitude that stretched from mesa to mesa and that athletic swagger. Surrounded by marauding Indians or searching for his kidnapped niece, the Duke remained the Western idyll of the self-reliant settler.

John Wayne didn’t need no stinkin’ help. And neither do the free-thinkers of the Review-Journal’s editorial page, the anti-tax wing of the Republican Party and any and all politicians who are unwilling to ask us to pay for the government services we want and need in a region of 2 million people and growing.

Their anti-government bent has enabled generations of anti-taxers to have it both ways—low taxes and all the public services they can use—so long as the suckers from out of town pick up much of the tab.

So here we are in a state that’s nearly a billion dollars in the hole for the next 19 months amid an economy that’s hurting.

So what should we do? Our self-reliant Western ethos demands that we stick it to tourists to pick up a larger share of the cost of operating our public schools—or so dictates that newly reached agreement between three of the state’s largest casino operators and the Nevada State Education Association.

The move would replace the union’s push to raise the state tax on gaming revenue, raising about $200 million through the end of the 2007-09 budget period. It would prevent a teachers’ union push to raise the state tax on casino revenues, which would have raised about $400 million over the same period.

Harrah’s Entertainment, Station Casinos and Wynn Resorts are behind the compromise. MGM Mirage and Boyd Gaming oppose it—and that means Gary Loveman, the Fertitta brothers and Steve Wynn facing off against Terry Lanni and Bill Boyd in a political steel cage match that would do the Fertitta UFC proud.

This is a community of dreamers, people who moved here in search of a fresh beginning, a new job, an affordable home. For them, Las Vegas is a temporary sanctuary.

We drive the roads, rely on police and fire departments, send our children to public schools, shower with tap water, expect 911 to immediately answer our pleas. We want to be proud of our community. Many of us defend it when out-of-towners offer their tired clichés about Southern Nevada. Yet, so many of us disrespect where we live.

We believe it’s okay to talk about cutting back the number of classroom hours for public-school children to close a growing state budget gap. We believe that teachers should have to decide whether to postpone scheduled pay raises or have larger classes. We believe that tourists should pay for our roads, schools, fire and police.

Too many so-called conservatives prove their Reaganesque poll cred by pushing their anti-tax agenda. Yet, somehow in that discussion another very real conservative value is lost—personal responsibility. The small-government crowd wants many if not all of those services when needed, but isn’t willing to pay for them.

And don’t think that schools, roads, prisons, fire and police are enough. Without public health facilities, mental health beds and drug treatment centers, our other challenges will fester.

Few of us want to shell out more money for taxes. We work hard and want to keep our paycheck. But many of us want to live in a community that makes us proud. It’s a place where children attend school at least 180 days annually; a place where we can live and travel safely; a place where we care for our hungry and homeless and mentally ill.

We have a moral responsibility to the young and less fortunate.

This isn’t about silly labels or political sloganeering. It’s a story of shared responsibility. And I’m tired of politicians, editorial writers, TV talking heads and many of our neighbors who tell us otherwise.

Somehow, tax dollars flowed freely for the railroads, oil companies, mining interests, dam builders, airlines, military contractors and other corporate interests that laid the groundwork for the settling of the West.

But now that people actually live here with very real needs, those same pro-industry lobbies argue against spending.

Of course, you might sincerely believe that government has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem. Fair enough. Then take pencil to paper and show us what should be cut.

Meantime, why can’t we at least discuss the adoption of a progressive personal income tax and a broad-based corporate tax in Nevada? It’s time for Nevada to overcome its inferiority complex and realize that successful businesses and families earning more than $100,000 a year will not flee this state if they’re asked to foot more of the cost of living here. Many people and businesses are wildly successful because of the opportunities they were given here.

Meantime, we look for ways to diversify our casino/construction/military/public employee-driven economy. And many bemoan the lack of high-paying jobs that require advanced degrees.

We live in an innovative community, a place where public architecture, hotel design, stagecraft and fine dining have been dramatically transformed during the past 10 years. The leap was financed with Wall Street stocks and bonds.

The next big leap could come with a push from solar and wind and geothermal energy. There’s no reason why the Mojave Desert shouldn’t become the center of “green” innovation in this country—at least, no reason short of a lack of political leadership, vision and effort.

Want to transform UNLV into a major research university? Want to lure more sharp minds with doctorates to this region? Want to experience the next great leap in the history of boom-and-bust cycles in this state? We are blessed with the natural resources to do it. It’s time for the political and economic leadership to fill the void, because if we don’t chase it, some other community will take it from us.

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