Teachers to announce margins tax campaign next week


Of all the 2013 Legislature’s misbegotten labors, the worst failing, the most egregious broken promise will result next week in the kickoff of one of the more expensive campaigns in Nevada history.

Yes, just two weeks after Democratic leaders took the coward’s way out and didn’t address the teachers union’s margins tax while breaking a pledge to pass a broad-based one of their own, the Nevada State Education Association plans to announce its ballot campaign for 2014, I’ve confirmed.

This is exactly the punishment the Democrats deserve for not doing their jobs and for refusing to engage with state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, who wanted to kill the margins tax at the ballot but was willing to make a deal to inject hundreds of millions of dollars into education.

The ballot is no place to make serious tax policy. But as I lamented almost exactly a year ago when the teachers filed their initiative for a 2 percent margins tax, it’s the ballot or nothing for those who believe the base should be broadened and more money should be infused into education.

As Democratic leaders were being checkmated by Gov. Brian Sandoval (“More Money for Schools, No New Taxes!”) while they read the checkers instructional manual (Yes, you can jump backwards!), the teachers were waiting for someone, anyone to talk to them about an alternative.

Instead, they heard mumbling, grumbling, moaning – the usual sounds emanating from elected officials who hate being put on the spot. The Democrats didn’t even have the intestinal fortitude to bring the margins tax up for vote, knowing that automatically sent it to the ballot. And when Roberson gave them a chance to talk about an alternative, instead of embracing him, they shunned him and promised their own plan.

I’m still waiting.

But the teachers union is not. Next week, the NSEA will announce its campaign to pass the so-called Education Initiative, complete with a large financial commitment to jumpstart a branding campaign.

The group is fully aware of the campaign to come next year to, ahem, marginalize what they are trying to do. So before the Chicken Little Caucus can tell Nevadans that the margins tax is an economic apocalypse that will send businesses fleeing the state, they need to tell voters that this is the only way to get big corporate titans to contribute to lower education in a meaningful and long-lasting way.

The teachers will have plenty of money – that’s what dues are for! – but their slingshot will be dwarfed by the goliaths of the Strip and the Chambers of Commerce. Millions of dollars will be spent to try to defeat the margins tax, which will be portrayed as the greatest destructive force ever to menace Nevada, worse even than Jim Gibbons.

The teachers clearly are following the “define yourself before your opponent does” theory of politics, although one wonders if some of its efficacy could be lost in the summer doldrums. On the other hand, if the union folks know they will be dramatically outspent, perhaps their only chance is to slowly and methodically build a grass-roots coalition and brand the tax as for the children, the kids, the future.

(I can’t wait to see what the Chicken Little Caucus calls The Education Initiative to re-brand it as the likely cause of skyrocketing unemployment, shuttered businesses and broken families. I’m scared already! We must stop it!)

Looming in the background – or, perhaps, the foreground – is Sandoval, the state’s most popular elected official who loves telling business groups how he will do everything in his power to stop this economy-destroying monster. How far will he go? Will it depend on if anyone even remotely credible files against him? Would he front the anti-margins tax campaign for his major donors?

I have little sympathy for the Democrats, who are getting their just desserts for their incompetence and intransigence on tax policy – not to mention their spinelessness. They didn’t make the decisions, so now it’s out of their hands.

Each one of them will now have to take a position on the ballot initiative, and they will find themselves torn between their core special interest, with lots of feet on the ground, and the folks who fund their campaigns, who will make this their top priority next year. So be it.

Yes, the ballot is the worst place to make tax policy – yes, worse even than a smoke-filled backroom. But to twist Churchill a bit, it’s the worst way to make policy, except for every other way that has been tried here.

(Image from wondercreationstudios.com)