blank.gif (51 bytes) Democracy

If You've Still Got Money, You're  Not Being 'Fair'

by Randall D. Lloyd

uch as Alice learned after passing through the looking glass, we now see that a thing means what a liberal says it means. There is a movement today in America to redefine the ideological base. Liberals have nearly succeeded in redefining the middle, such that "liberal" no longer describes one side of the ideological continuum, but is meant to define the center, moderate position of policy and principle.

Consider the pronouncements from Washington for the last six years: The arguments put forth by liberals over policy presume that theirs is the central and moderate position. What else can we conclude when anyone who disagrees with liberal ideals is labeled an extremist?

The debates about taxation, education, health and other policies are examples. Conservatives and libertarians have been labeled "extreme," "anti-children" and "anti-elderly" under this new definition, simply for offering alternative solutions and views of problems facing America.

The reason for labeling opponents as extreme is simple. If other ways of crafting policy or other ways of seeing the proper role of government—read limited, constitutional government—hinder the desire for rampant expansion of the administrative state, they must be demonized. No longer is the process of policy creation important, just the outcome, which is predetermined along liberal lines. This results in policy based on winning at all costs. A genuine debate might lead to compromise, and that does not put a mark in the win column. By blasting conservatives as extremists to a willing news media, liberals hope to get the public on their side.

Liberals portray people who prefer tax cuts rather than tax increases as against social programs. Their opponents only want to squander money by giving it to the rich, liberals say. They are thus callous toward the plight of less-privileged Americans. Republicans want to starve your grandparents, said Mike McCurry, president Clinton’s former press secretary, during the Medicare debate in 1996. Thus, the liberal plan to deal with Medicare is automatically the only reasonable plan left standing. Similarly, conservative and other opposition to administration plans to lower class sizes are labeled by liberals as anti-children zealotry. After all, how can anyone be opposed to helping children? Never mind that even a U.S. Department of Education study found no clear evidence that class-size reduction had helped students perform better on tests.

Much of this redefinition-mongering revolves around budgets. Taxation policy from the left is couched in "fair share" blather: The rich don’t pay their fair share, they say. But just what constitutes a fair share? The term "fair" used to denote equal treatment. Not any longer. The word now means that the top few percent of wage earners pay nearly half of all federal taxes, and that under one-half of wage earners pay 90 percent of all income tax. But this is not enough for the ideologues of the left, that is, the self-proclaimed "center." Fairness means greater revenues to expand government, and only people who earn money can provide it.

Liberals in Nevada have also begun to use the new definition in policy debates. Recent rhetoric surrounding the proposed increase in gaming tax is such an example. Senator Joe Neal of North Las Vegas has couched his argument in favor of raising the tax in such language. His statements in the press include:

"The casinos are trying to take whatever they can from the state, and they’re not giving back. It’s greed." This was in response to a request by casinos to deduct promotional expenses from taxable income.

Or, as quoted in the Reno Gazette-Journal: "We know that gaming has made a tremendous amount of money in this state, in which they have not paid their fare [sic] share."

Shades of Lewis Carroll

These two statements can only make sense in an altered reality reminiscent of Lewis Carroll. Who can say with a straight face of an industry that provides over one-third of general fund revenues to the state that they are not giving back, or not paying their fair share? These statements do not allow for disagreement on what is fair, or what the role of government should be. The argument inherently assumes— due to its very incoherence precluding alternate interpretations—that it is the correct position.

True fairness means that all businesses will pay the same percent of their revenues in taxes, but what Nevada business other than gaming pays a 6.25 percent tax on revenues? Sure, the casinos made a bargain with the state many years ago for the privilege of doing business, and they have paid for the privilege with taxes no other business pays. That much at least is a bargain casinos have agreed to that other businesses have not.

Then again, there is another definition of fair, according to Senator Neal, who insists that Nevada casinos don’t pay as large a percentage in tax as do casinos in all other states. There can be no denying this. But Nevada is unique in not blocking new competition against established casinos. Other states limit, in various ways, the number of casinos in their jurisdictions, thus providing support for larger revenues from individual properties. Monopolies and oligopolies frequently have higher profits.

Additionally, Neal insists that the tax has not been raised in years. According to this reasoning, the tax percentage should increase continually. So, even though revenues may increase due to growth, and provide more dollars to the state’s coffers, he wants an ever-increasing percentage as well. Eventually, under such a trend, with no logic to counter it, casinos would be required to pay all their income to the state.

Senator Neal argues that casinos don’t pay enough because roads and schools need more money. Thus, his idea of a fair share has little to do with how much a business contributes, but instead on how much money he or someone else wants to spend. The implications of this thinking ought to scare anyone in Nevada who owns a business or earns money. There are always more things on which some people will want to spend money. What will stop the legislature from deciding that warehouses, mine operators, gas stations, dry cleaners and grocery stores don’t pay their fair share when someone decides that classrooms should have no more than five students per teacher?

Considering that Clark County has financial needs for infrastructure in the billions of dollars, someone who is not now providing their "fair share" will have to do so in the future. Casinos won’t be able to provide it all. Look for taxes on other businesses as well. A constitutional limitation keeps Nevadans from paying income taxes, but as Bob Miller showed us a few years ago with the tax on employees, there are many ways to get businesses to pay their "fair share."

Redefining what is moderate also requires redefining what is reasonable. Policy based on desired outcomes rather than open and honest compromise has led to name-calling and convoluted logic. No one is safe from the tentacles of big government when only winning matters. When you hear the fair share arguments in the future, hold on to your wallet, because you definitely are not paying your fair share now. NJ

Randall D. Lloyd is a senior research fellow with NPRI and a lecturing professor in political science at the University of Nevada, reno. He can be reached at lloydr@asme.org.


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