Thursday, July 17, 2003

'Tax hater' shoots fish in a barrel

Eugene Volokh eviscerates Brian Greenspun, editor of the Las Vegas Sun (and graduate of Georgetown's School of Law, where he was a classmate of one Wm. J. Clinton) for today's column, which argues that the Nevada Supremes' decision was peachy keen. Consider this gem from the erudite editor:

Regardless how many "experts" the tax-hating Review-Journal could drag out to intimidate the jurists [referring in part to Eugene, who was quoted in several news stories],the fact remains that their reasoning was sound, however unusual it may have been. And, it did what most clear-thinking Nevadans wanted to be done. It ordered the Legislature to do its job and do it by majority rule, a concept that has served this republic remarkably well and Nevada extraordinarily so for the past 139 years.

And then there's this Greenspun classic:

Whoever heard of a minority of people telling the majority of the citizens in any state how they should live, spend their money and educate their children?

Well, Brian, there is that little think known as the Bill of Rights ... or the half-dozen of so provisions in the Nevada Constitution Eugene points out that must have eluded the journalist. I have another one: How about the provision in the constitution of your new home state of California (he owns a home there where he spends much of his time), which requires a two-thirds majority before the Legislature can pass a budget? Did I mention he's a law school graduate?

The column is classic Greenspun bluster, all invective, sadly lacking in logic. It also (typically) fails to disclose a personal conflict: Greenspun was hand-picked to serve on the Governor's Task Force on Tax Policy, the panel which drafted the outline for the tax proposal the Legislature failed to pass ... the tax plan that's now the subject of the current legal controversy. Your readers might appreciate knowing that ... or at least for you to acknowledge that you have an ax to grind.

Channeling William Jennings Bryan

Nevada Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, a Las Vegas Democrat who moonlights as a political science professor at UNLV, has gotten increasingly shrill as the tax impasse has dragged on. As the Senate rejected yet another attempt to pass a record-setting tax increase, Titus became unhinged because the plan didn't sufficiently bludgeon Nevada banks:

Titus complained that banks would be let off too easily by the Raggio bill because they would pay only a $430 per employee payroll tax [other employees would be assessed a $200 per worker tax]. She said banks in Nevada earned $12 billion in profits last year.

What a wonderful message to send to entrepreneurs considering a a move to Nevada: If you even think about making a profit, the government will expropriate it.

BTW, if a newly launched ballot initiative drive succeeds, Ms. Titus will have to give up her day job, er, return to the university full-time. The ballot measure would prohibit public employees from serving in the Legislature ... a provision that should be covered in Article III, Section 1 of the state constitution:

1. The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments,—the Legislative,—the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.

Sadly, state policy-makers refuse to enforce this.

Vintage news

My friend Virginia Postrel's latest NYT column (reg required) speaks to an issue near and dear to my heart: wine shipments. Virginia cites an ongoing Federal Trade Commission study into the potential for mischief that takes place when states impose trade barriers on one another. It's a legacy of the end of Prohibition, one of the few instances Congress has allowed states to engage directly in protectionist policies.

This restraint of trade has affected us personally. We had to drop membership in the club from Laetitia in Arroyo Grande, Calif., when we moved to Nevada. The Silver State allows some limited shipments of wine directly from the producer to the consumer (an individual can receive a total of 12 cases from all out-of-state shippers a year), but this winery didn't want to subject itself to potential prosecution in case one of its customers bought large quantities of wine from a number of sources. So we had to stop receiving the half-dozen or so bottles we had purchased by mail from this winery each year. The Institute for Justice has gone to court in a bunch of states, trying to get these odious restrictions repealed, with some success. They can't move quickly enough.

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