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Not All Ballot Issues are Created Equal

There were at least three efforts to increase taxes on the ballot this month. All three went down in flames, laying to waste this notion by Gov. Sandoval and other moderate Republicans that voters are clamoring for elected officials who are “open” to higher taxes. That said, consider the following:

If voters wanted to place an issue on the ballot to reduce spending or CUT taxes, they would have to go out and collect tens of thousands of signatures to qualify their measure for the ballot to demonstrate some level of public support for the measure.

On the other hand, if a government organization – such as a school district or library board or even the Legislature – wants to place a measure on the ballot, they just do it without demonstrating even a scintilla of public support via the expensive and time-consuming signature-gathering process.

That’s bad enough…and reason enough that taxpayers should never vote for any tax hike that isn’t placed on the ballot through the same signature-gathering initiative process that, you know, we citizens have to go through.

But there’s an additional insidious aspect of government-proposed initiatives; and that has to do with how PR campaigns supporting the government’s position are funded.

“While not directly campaigning for a ballot question to raise property taxes,” reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal on October 31 about the Clark County school district’s tax hike proposal, “school officials have intermingled related expenses and activities with a political action committee, the School Improvement Committee, created by four former Nevada first ladies to support the issue.”

The RJ further noted that the school district “spent $22,000 on glossy brochures that were sent to all 225,000 families of students in the country’s fifth-largest district” at taxpayer expense. “The three-page brochure argues a ‘crucial need’ for the estimated $669 million for improvements at 40 schools, calling the tax increase a ‘fiscally conservative plan.’”

As Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute argues, while the brochure doesn’t come right out and say “Vote for the Tax Hike,” the message – again, conveyed at taxpayer expense – was unmistakable. Tax dollars were used to promote a tax hike, plain and simple.

There was additional “co-mingling” reported that may or may not have technically violated state laws against such coordinated campaigning, but the point is that regular citizens opposed to the tax hike had no such access to taxpayer-funded assets and communication pipelines and soapboxes.

We the taxpayers were fighting on a very uneven playing field.

That we prevailed nevertheless speaks again to the depth of opposition to raising taxes despite claims to the contrary by the liberal tax hike crowd and its “amen” corner in the Governor’s Mansion.

When it comes to ballot initiatives, the rules should apply equally to the governing as well as the governed.

As such, taxpayers of all stripes should openly, publicly and vocally oppose any and all government efforts to place any tax increase on any ballot anywhere in the state that does not fulfill the same signature-gathering requirements imposed upon us, the great unwashed citizenry.

So let it be written; so let it be done.