It’s never enough. And it will never be enough. No matter how many billions of dollars we give away to wealthy corporations, they just keep begging for more. Maybe that’s why they return to the Nevada Legislature every session with their hands out; no other state is quite as eager to keep subsidizing the shareholders of private corporations with taxpayer funds, all in the name of jobs and so-called economic prosperity that results in more wealth for the already-rich, leaving the rest of us to grapple with high rents, underfunded schools and a mental-health safety net so porous that our children fall right through it.

It’s hard not to turn away in disgust.

In a recurring nightmare, “long-in-the-works” corporate welfare bills are secretly negotiated and don’t materialize until the last weeks of the legislative session, leaving little time for citizens to object or organize in opposition. This year, it’s the Oakland Athletics looking for as much money as they can get for the privilege of relocating to Las Vegas. And three weeks out from sine die, it’s Sony Pictures, promising jobs and movie studios for the mere price of $190 million a year for the next 20 years—which would be the largest package of legalized graft in Nevada’s history. But, hey, we’ll get a movie studio out of it, maybe, and what could be more glamourous or irresistible?

While other states are paring back their tax gifts to corporations after multiple independent studies reached the same conclusion—that economic benefits are oversold, and the return on investment just isn’t there—Nevada is full steam ahead, and promoters disparage anyone who questions their motives or their lack of any evidence that this is sensible economic policy.

Consider the comments from the director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) at a recent legislative hearing on a bill from Sen. Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, who wanted more transparency on giveaways, and limits on what an executive-branch agency can award with no legislative oversight. Offended economic development officials claimed even “having this hearing has devastating and dire consequences,” because businesses will think Nevada’s wallet is no longer open. GOED director Tom Burns told legislators, “The thought that companies will come to Nevada anyway without incentives is kind of mystical, unsubstantiated, reckless and, frankly, wrong.” Naturally, he offered not one bit of evidence to support his statement.

Mike Kazmierski, from the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), was equally outraged that the Legislature would dare to interfere with the state’s big-business largesse. His passion is quarreling with those who see the tax breaks as corporate welfare, parsing his argument this way: “The reality is we’re just not taxing them on something they wouldn’t be taxed on in just about any other state. … For every dollar we don’t take away from them—and again, it’s not giving, it’s just not taking away from them—our revenue at the state goes up $3.”

But not taking our tax abatements away is indeed giving them hard cash. Not taking away equates to giving, except apparently in economic-development fantasyland.

Whatever level of corporate welfare the Legislature decides to award these businesses, you can be sure others will be lining up for their own handouts next session.

A handful of Democratic legislators pushed back in more straightforward language. Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong, D-Las Vegas, captured the thoughts of many Reno residents, reasonably asking, “How do we balance rampant homelessness, mental-health issues (and) schools that are falling apart all over the state, but we can hold up and say we have a fabulous advanced manufacturing facility at the end of a road that isn’t big enough to even handle the traffic that is going out there every day?”

And remember, this debate was just on Neal’s transparency bill. As I write this column in mid-May, it’s unclear how much of our money won’t be taken away from the A’s or Sony Pictures. Whatever level of corporate welfare the Legislature decides to award these businesses, you can be sure others will be lining up for their own handouts next session. Once you swallow the argument by economic-development officials that this is the only way for Nevada to thrive, there truly is no end to the madness of subsidizing big business year after year, while Nevada’s families struggle with crumbling schools, skyrocketing housing costs and a children’s mental-health system that ranks 51st in the nation.

Nevada’s budget reflects our priorities. Too bad sports teams, movie studios and battery factories increasingly trump our kids.

Sheila Leslie is a semi-retired human services professional who has lived in Reno for 45-plus years. A native Californian, she graduated from Sonoma State University and holds a master’s degree in Spanish...

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  1. And today the physician assisted suicide bill passed. Get ready. Your insurance companies are about to strip their formularies of expensive live saving and life extending drugs. You might think “ah! Whatever! I’ll be comforted by the thought of my own death.” Gagging down a 120 pill concoction created not by medical science, but by euthanasia enthusiasts.
    Might be ok today, but disability or illness happens to 100% of families. So one day soon, someone you love will be diagnosed with something curable, or not, but something medication could allow them to live longer. But no. You live in Nevada and your insurance is about to assure your death. They’ll probly even send you a letter telling you Suicide is just a $1.25 co-pay. It passed so quietly, like death whispering through the room kissing each one of them on the cheek.
    I don’t know why – it’s so illogical – but I thought the death of so many people would make a bigger sound.

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