Chuck Muth: Conservatives winning the tax debate

Republicans are once again in the minority in both houses of the Legislature after blowing a golden opportunity to regain control in the state Senate, despite spending millions of dollars promoting moderate candidates who refused to pledge not to raise your taxes.Go figure.Making matters worse, there are even fewer committed, principled movement conservatives in Carson City this session than there are Republicans. I can count them on one hand. And in the eyes of liberal pundits, that constitutes a major rejection of those of us who champion limited, constitutional government.Au contraire, mon frre. On at least two levels, the conservative anti-tax hike message that we've been hammering home for years is controlling the debate.The Taxpayer Protection Pledge reads, “I promise to oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” But that's not what some slippery, weasel-word politicians are saying these days. Indeed, witness the contortions Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and his new “yes” man, GOP Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, are going through to excuse the fact that they've both broken their word to voters on this issue by claiming they're not supporting any “new” taxes.Sorry, Charlie. That dog won't hunt.There is no question whatsoever that extending the “temporary” tax hikes passed in 2009 is an effort to increase taxes. Those “sunset” taxes were supposed to expire on a set date, just like a gallon of milk. By voting to extend those “temporary” tax hikes, that's a vote to increase taxes. Period.And it reeks just as badly as expired milk.Regardless, because of such strong anti-tax hike pressure from conservatives — including the defeat of tax-hiking former Assemblyman Kelly Kite in the GOP primary last spring — Republicans such as Sandoval and Roberson are parsing the meaning of the word “new” with regard to the sunsets while simultaneously digging in their feet against other possible tax increases.Secondly, when it comes to the issue of broadening Nevada's tax base, Republicans and some Democrats are now embracing the long-held conservative position of “revenue neutral” tax reform. While liberal Democrat leaders in the past have refused to separate tax hikes from tax reform, Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick recently told the Las Vegas Sun that “she will pursue revenue neutral reform aimed at increasing Nevada's tax base” in order to get Republicans onboard. She even said she favors eliminating the payroll tax and wants to “get rid of the sunsets altogether” — both positions conservatives have strongly espoused for years. So while conservatives certainly aren't in control of the Legislature, we are, to a significant extent, controlling the debate on this issue. So don't despair. Remain vigilant. Keep the heat turned up. And maybe, just maybe, more of them will see the light.• Chuck Muth is president of and blogs at


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