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Steve Hill and the Chamber of Secrets

The news was stunning. My jaw hit the floor.

In a recent Las Vegas Sun story headlined “Elite group met secretly to discuss budget, taxes,” it was revealed that one of our own, a man who is supposed to be fighting on behalf of Nevada’s business community was, as they say, “sleeping with the enemy.”

If you haven’t heard about this yet, you might want to sit down…and keep your blood pressure medicine handy.

“Gov. Brian Sandoval’s suspicion that business leaders and Democrats have been secretly meeting to hatch a plan to raise taxes turns out to be true. The Sun has confirmed that state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, met repeatedly last year with a group of about 10 business executives…to come up with ways to reform government and identify what taxes could be raised to address the state budget deficit…”

Among those 10 business executives: Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce government affairs chief Steve Hill.

The story notes that while Democrats have been loath to discuss raising taxes in public, “there has apparently been plenty of talk” privately in secret meetings that have taken place “about 10 times over the better part of the year.” One unidentified member of the secret Hill Group said that “thousands of hours” had been spent “examining the state’s finances and discussing potential tax increases.”

Don’t worry…it gets worse.

The two taxes the secret Hill Group reportedly determined were the “most palatable” would hit businesses like yours.

The first would be a new sales tax on services – such as haircuts, dry-cleaning, car washes and accounting. And while it’s true that most service providers would be able to pass on such a tax to their customers, it would still be a new government paperwork headache, subjecting your business to more government regulation and scrutiny.

The second so-called “palatable” tax would be a new annual “franchise fee” on every business with gross revenues of $300,000 or more to replace the current Modified Business Tax (MBT).

Oh, yeah, that’s MUCH more palatable (not!).

But maybe this shouldn’t have been so surprising after all. Recall that in 2009 Mr. Hill and the Chamber supported doubling the MBT on Nevada’s largest employers as part of a package of a billion dollars worth of tax hikes. Mr. Hill told the Nevada Appeal at the time that “his members recognize that lawmakers need more revenue.”

Really? Business owners and executives “recognized” that while they were being forced to slash costs and trim payrolls just to stay afloat they also needed to give the government more money? Really, Mr. Hill?

This “recognition” that “lawmakers need more money” apparently comes from some deep-seated desire to be “at the table” playing politics rather than being a pit-bull defender of small business. It’s the same “strategery” the Chamber often uses when endorsing and supporting candidates.

Indeed, time after time, election cycle after election cycle, it has been more important for the Chamber to play the odds and “buy access” by supporting even some virulently anti-business legislators than supporting clearly pro-business candidates.

For example, take Assemblyman Tick Segerblom (please!). In the last legislative session, he had this to say about businesses that objected to having their taxes raised: “Nevada doesn’t need those types of firms anyway. . . . Any business that doesn’t want to pay, I don’t want in the state.”

This is the same guy who right now has a bill proposed to add height and weight to the state’s anti-discrimination laws; a potential lawsuit-palooza against the business community like you wouldn’t believe. And yet, unbelievably, the Chamber actually gave this satanically anti-business legislator a four-figure donation last year!

The Chamber is great at mixers and ribbon cuttings, but when it comes to guarding the Nevada business community from the government wolves, it’s been more of a lapdog than watchdog. Maybe it’s time to give it the “Old Yeller” treatment.