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Dennis Myers: new Nevada policy likely to continue

When Brian Sandoval became governor, Nevada had a policy of severely limiting corporate subsidies.

As he left office this week, it could accurately imprint “The Corporate Welfare State” on its license plates. And there is no sign anything will change under the new governor.

Incoming Gov. Steve Sisolak, D-Las Vegas, supported the Raiders stadium giveaway over the objections of nearly every independent expert on sports finances.

When Kenny Guinn was running for governor (he served from 1999 to 2007), I recall interviewing him on this. Because he had a business background (Bank of Nevada, Southwest Gas), I asked him about subsidizing companies to lure them to Nevada.

He was shaking his head before I even got the question finished. “I don’t see any reason for that,” he said. As I recall, he left the state’s small business incentives in place, but never asked the Legislature for more.

Sandoval, however, approved some of the biggest state subsidies in U.S. history, including THE biggest — $1.3 billion to attract Tesla to Storey County.

Given the tax abatements Tesla has used so far, and with its workforce at 7,059 employees, taxpayers are paying $34,042 per job, according to analyst Brian Bonnenfant at the UNR Center for Regional Studies.

That does not mean that figure is the cost to taxpayers, he cautions. Not yet figured in are the revenues generated by Tesla’s operations that benefit the state’s economy. But whether THOSE calculations will ever be made is anyone’s guess.

A lot of people in the state have a stake in corporate welfare and don’t want any computations that might interfere with it. Ideology sometimes trumps wisdom.

Democrats don’t want to hear the considerable evidence that motor voter doesn’t work in boosting voter turnout. Congressional Republicans vetoed any follow-up studies to learn if their welfare reform program worked.

This is unfortunate, given the relative agreement about corporate welfare. Liberals oppose it, of course, but so do many, many conservatives.

The Koch brothers have their Americans for Prosperity PAC attacking subsidies for corporation all across the country, including Nevada: “These tax credit programs [for moviemakers] are set up to benefit politically-connected businesses, not the taxpayer. Shows and movies that were going to utilize Nevada’s unique setting anyway would get a subsidy, and taxpayers would be footed with the bill. So much for bringing in new jobs.”

No one demanded this new Nevada policy, nor did Sandoval or Sisolak run for office saying, “I will subsidize billionaires and rich corporations.”

Under Republican Sandoval of Reno, corporate welfare for Hollywood, a baseball team, and car companies have hung out a sign for the business world to see: “Soft touches here.” And it appears it will continue under Democrat Sisolak.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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