Clark County's chronically underfunded schools could see their money woes vanish in an instant if state lawmakers heed the advice of Assembly Minority Whip Tom Grady, of Yerington. Last week, Mr. Grady expressed his adamant opposition to increased taxes on the bulging pockets of the mining industry. As reported by the RJ, Grady said "lawmakers should not be thinking about trying to fund urban schools by taxing the rural-based mining industry."
In other words: An industry based primarily in one part of the state should not be taxed in order to support public services in another. Grady's bold philosophy would probably be welcome at the Clark County School District and in every boardroom on the Las Vegas Strip. Las Vegas' casinos are the economic engine that generates close to half of all the revenue in the state budget. Taxes on gambling, booze, food and entertainment in Las Vegas are directly responsible for keeping the lights on and doors open at schools throughout rural Nevada, and it's been this way for more than 30 years.
If he can convince fellow lawmakers to adhere to the Grady Rule, the Yerington Republican could rearrange priorities so that revenues raised in Clark County would stay at home to fund Clark County schools, instead of being sent to schools or government services Winnemucca or Battle Mountain or, ahem, Yerington. The Grady Rule might also change the disparity in higher education funding, wherein spending per college student is much higher in rural parts of the state than in Clark County, even though this is where most of the tax revenue is raised. The Grady Rule could level that playing field overnight.
Las Vegas casinos might also warm to the ideas expressed by Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, who said she opposes the proposed increase in mining taxes because it is unfair to enact a tax that unfairly targets a specific industry. Oh, really? I wonder if she can think of any other industry-specific taxes that have been approved here?
Gaming taxes have always paid a disproportionate percentage of the state budget. If we could convince other lawmakers and the governor to enact the Fiore Rule into law, it might finally end this discriminatory disparity by removing a tax that is directly, overtly and unfairly focused on one unfortunate industry.
Cooler heads in both parties know that the exploitation of perceived regional differences is politically expedient but short-sighted. Nevada is one state. Revenues generated in Las Vegas have long funded programs and services everywhere else, and few in these parts have griped about it. The only time Southern Nevadans get riled up about the poor return on the dollars we generate is when rural and northern lawmakers have the audacity to demand an ever-larger slice of the pie, even though the pie was baked down here. More than a few folks in the cow counties look down their noses at Las Vegas and consider this valley to be an interloper of sorts, not the real Nevada at all. The resentment and false air of superiority are all too real for some of them.
But there is no question that this end of the state has kept the rest of Nevada afloat and open for business, that money from Las Vegas visitors and residents pays to keep schools open and programs alive in every far-flung corner of the Silver State. If lawmakers want to say that one part of the state should not be taxed for the benefit of residents in other areas, they should think long and hard before expressing their beliefs out loud. They might one day get their wish.