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Arguing against education funding

Listen closely, and you can hear the indifferent desert wind as it chides and whistles around the politics of the Education Initiative margins tax measure.

Talk about a solitary sage. The proposed 2 percent business tax has gone from a reasonable plan to help fund public schools to one lonesome and unloved idea.

Some people are probably still wondering what happened. Its allies at the Nevada State Education Association argue that it’s necessary and will generate up to $700 million for schools at a crucial time. The money has to come from somewhere, right?

No, actually, it doesn’t.

In Nevada, it’s always possible to argue against increased funding for public education. The tax proposal’s legion of critics argues that it threatens to cripple Nevada’s precarious economic recovery. It would singlehandedly increase the unemployment rate and hurt the very families whose children it proposes to benefit. It’s bad tax policy. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for working people.

It seems especially bad for politicians attempting to prevail in the 2014 campaign. Republicans might be expected to reject a tax proposal out of hand, but even the Democrats have joined in the chorus against Question 3.

Nevada’s latest education Governor, Brian Sandoval, is adamantly opposed to the tax measure, which will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. He calls the initiative ill advised and damaging to the state’s recovery.

Last week the state AFL-CIO, which has a radical history of actually supporting taxes for public education, announced it had voted to oppose the margins tax proposal backed by the state teachers union. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson noted the irony of the labor organization’s position, but explained on a Review-Journal story, “It is a vote against a flawed initiative that will cost many of our members their jobs and raise the cost of living on Nevadans on a fixed income and on citizens that are still struggling to make ends meet after years of a terrible recession.”

With so much opposition and criticism, you’d be forgiven for wondering why the NSEA went to all the trouble to collect 150,000 signatures and dodge a fusillade of political bullets to force the tax measure onto the ballot. In part, because its officials know all the big talk about comprehensive tax reform through the legislative process is nothing but hot wind.

It’s amazing that the popular Republican governor, Democratic bosses, business leaders and the heads of organized labor all agree they want to fix the state’s tax system so that it’s fair, balanced and effectively serves the people — and especially the children.

But when it comes to making those substantive changes, it’s the same old Silver State shuffle. Those improvements first must make it through the state Legislature with its motto: “Where change goes to die.”

In Nevada, we often hear that there’s no direct correlation between spending more for public education and higher performance. Raising taxes to improve public education is bad for business — even in a state whose business climate suffers because of its reputation for failing to provide quality public education to its children.

It’s only May, but the critical chorus howling against the proposed margins tax is loud and already nearly unanimous. If history is an accurate indicator, it will go down to defeat.

That will leave us without that bad margins tax-for-education idea. But what idea will take its place?

More talk of reform, to be sure. Make that comprehensive reform. If there’s one thing people in positions of strength in government and business can agree on, there’s always room to talk about reform. Because in Nevada, everyone cares about education.

Perhaps a committee will be appointed. Maybe a study will be produced.

And the wind of indifference will blow.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-383-0295 or at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com.

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