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The Empire Strikes Back

Late Monday afternoon I sent out an email alert urging citizens to contact one of their elected leaders, Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, and urge him not to support the billion dollar tax hike being spoon-fed to us by the Legislature this week. Pure petitioning of our government by private citizens, not paid lobbyists, on an important public policy issue which has serious financial ramifications for us all.

In that email alert I included this quote in the headline by Wynn Resorts chairman Steve Wynn taken from the April 9 edition of Jon Ralston’s “Face to Face” television program:

“Anybody who raises taxes now is psychotic.”

The body of the email read as follows – and it’s important to read through this again even if you already read it because of what comes after. So please indulge me.

Dear Nevada Taxpayer,

Democrats control the Nevada State Senate, 12-9.

And because of a 2/3 super-majority requirement in the state’s Constitution, Democrats cannot pass their billion dollar tax increase on the citizens and small businesses of Nevada this week without the votes of at least two Republican senators.

And no Republican senator is going to vote for any tax hike without Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio (R-Reno) giving them the “green light” to do so by supporting it himself.

In addition, should the state Senate vote for the billion dollar tax increase on the citizens of Nevada, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons has promised to veto it. And then once again the Democrats will need the support of Sen. Raggio to override the governor’s veto.

The Bottom Line: Whether or not Nevada’s citizens, businesses and tourists get socked with this billion dollar tax hike in 2009 all depends on Sen. Raggio.

If Sen. Raggio supports the billion dollar tax hike, it’ll pass.

If Sen. Raggio opposes the billion dollar tax hike, it’ll die.

It’s just that simple.

Take Action: Call Sen. Raggio and urge him to OPPOSE the billon dollar tax hike!

Note that this was simply a call for citizen action to voice opposition to pending legislation. There isn’t anything in this email which could even remotely be considered a “gratuitous attack” on Sen. Raggio, is there?

Well, shortly after that email went out, I received a threatening email from someone named Kim Sinatra who claimed to be Mr. Wynn’s lawyer. Here’s what Ms. Sinatra wrote:

“Dear Mr. Muth,

“My name is Kim Sinatra and I am the General Counsel at Wynn Resorts. I have received a copy of the email you sent out today in a mass mailing that misrepresented the position of our Chairman, Steve Wynn. You took a quote from Ralston’s Flash that was out of context. If you had actually watched the interview with Mr. Wynn, you would have seen that he specifically supported an increase in the MBT–a large part of the plan being worked on by our dedicated leadership in Carson City. While we all try to survive in these unprecedented economic times, your gratuitous attack on Senator Raggio, one of our most revered public servants, is shameful.

“Be assured that we will take all action available to us to cease and redress your unauthorized and flagrantly false representations of Mr. Wynn’s position. You should also immediately send a corrective email to all recipients of your prior missive, copying me at this address.”

Hmmmm. Obviously the “powers that be” don’t much like the great unwashed getting involved in their backroom deals.

The fact is, legislative leaders have been meeting in private to hash out a budget and tax hike proposal for four months now and plan to give Nevada’s citizens less than four days to try to stop it. And when it looked like us lowly citizens might be able to mount an anti-tax campaign even in that short window, somebody unleashed the legal hounds.

Nevertheless, I was willing to entertain the possibility that Mr. Wynn’s quote was taken out of context from an interview that occurred more than a month ago. So I went back and viewed the full exchange between him and Mr. Ralston again.

They were just finishing a dialogue over the 3 percent room tax hike already approved by the Legislature earlier this session. We pick up the interview from there:

RALSTON: It doesn’t sound like it’s a good time to raise the room tax right now considering everything that’s going on.

WYNN: Unfortunately, listen, when this (Wynn’s and the teachers union’s push for the room tax hike) all came up we weren’t in this situation.

RALSTON: Right.

WYNN: This is a time, anybody that raises any taxes now is purely psychotic. I mean, every time they touch a tax now you can just increase the unemployment line at the Culinary Union and at every place else in this city. No, no. This is a bad time to raise taxes.

Now, I’ll grant you that the quote I used wasn’t 100 percent accurate. I wrote that Mr. Wynn said that “Anybody who raises taxes now is psychotic.” In fact, Mr. Wynn said they were “purely psychotic,” not just “psychotic.”

But other than that, how in the world did I take what Mr. Wynn said out of context? I quoted him accurately, absent the missing “purely,” and in exactly the context of the conversation.

Now, as to Ms. Sinatra’s point that Mr. Wynn supports “an increase in the MBT” – which stands for “Modified Business Tax,” aka the payroll tax – let’s put THAT into context, shall we?

Long after his “psychotic” remark and a commercial break, the conservation returned to the budget crisis, with Mr. Wynn becoming rather agitated and hot under the collar. We once again go the tape.

RALSTON: What would be the wrong thing to do?

WYNN: What an interesting question. Ah. Well I know that if they go after the gaming industry we will have massive, unbelievable cutbacks. The unemployment rate in this state’ll go to 15 percent.

RALSTON: You can’t raise the gaming tax at all now?

WYNN: You couldn’t raise, every one of these companies is losing money. It’s an insane question even. They’re losing money, including me. I mean, the, the, the well’s dry. Finally the God-damned businessmen in this state…

RALSTON: Aren’t all these other services losing money, too?

WYNN: …the selfish, selfish, selfish, selfish people that have refused to take up one speck of their fair share. The business community…

RALSTON: Who are you talking about?

WYNN: The banks. And lawyers. The insurance companies. The construction companies. The whole gang of them.

RALSTON: Aren’t they hurting now, too?

WYNN: Yep. Yep, but they’re hurting, but they’re not paying the kind of taxes we are. Over half of the state’s budget is paid by us. If they increased this broad-based business tax that you speak of, who will pay most of it? Gaming. If they do it on payroll, gaming. Any way you do it, we pay it. Sales tax, we pay it.

RALSTON: The payroll tax that they put in in 2003, that’s mainly what’s being talked about up in Carson City as the vehicle to raise some money.

WYNN: Probably correct.

RALSTON: Does that make sense to you?

WYNN: Yes.

RALSTON: Why is that?

WYNN: Because it’s, it’s the most broad based. It’s the most broad based. Probably have to double it.

There you have it. While Mr. Wynn DID say at the end of the second part of his interview that a hike in the payroll tax was “probably” the best way, in his opinion, to raise some money, that doesn’t mean, in any way, that I took his original quote from the first segment of the interview out of context.

It only means that, by his own definition, Mr. Wynn is “purely psychotic.”

Oh, crap. Now I KNOW we’re gonna get sued!