The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is a well-known opponent of taxes. In fact, the group played a key role in killing then-Gov. Kenny Guinn‘s gross receipts tax idea back in 2003, which may have prevented some of the deep cuts to the state’s schools and social welfare systems now under consideration in Carson City.
So it was surprising to read a recent letter from Chamber Government Affairs Committee Chairman Hugh Anderson to members. Not only did the letter use the $2.7 billion figure for the current budget shortfall (a number disputed by conservatives, who claim it is far less), but Anderson acknowledged something else Chamber types might not like.
“Although it is not clear what the legislative budget committees will recommend, our review has led us to believe additional tax revenue may be necessary,” Anderson wrote.
Yes, it is a little like the pope saying he’s OK with Lutherans after all. And much like a hypothetical Vatican concession on that subject, Anderson’s remark comes with caveats: The Chamber nonetheless wants “meaningful reforms” including fixing PERS, ending the health-care subsidy for retirees, reforming collective bargaining, “transforming” schools” (no specifics on that one) and “retooling” higher education (again, no specifics).
Some questions occur:
Having acknowledged that taxes may be necessary to avoid proposed cuts, is the Chamber really now prepared to say that, unless their particular reforms are enacted, they will continue to oppose taxes anyway? In other words, is the Chamber prepared to put its political agenda ahead of avoiding cuts that it has now acknowledged are devastating enough to require taxes to avoid?
For the second question, let’s assume Democrats are willing to give a little. (They’re really not; even reasonable suggestions for collective bargaining reform died at the first house committee passage deadline on Friday.) But let’s assume Democrats did come to the table as the Chamber asks. Then the question becomes, how disappointed will Anderson be when Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoes a tax-laden budget anyway?
You see, I once asked the governor about this very scenario, on the off chance the Chamber might go all wobbly on taxes. If the business community agreed to be taxed, I asked Sandoval, would you go along? After telling me that the businesses he’s talked to are all against taxes, Sandoval then reiterated that under no circumstances — even a business-embraced tax increase — would he go back on his no-tax promise.
What this comes down to, then, is not whether Anderson, or the Chamber, or even some Republicans in the Legislature looking for political cover will vote for taxes. What it comes down to is whether Sandoval will. And the answer to that is no.
Which raises one final question: Can the newly pro-tax Chamber muster two-thirds of the members in both houses to overcome Sandoval’s principled and unshakable opposition to taxes? Because that’s what it’s going to take to do it.