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Taxing food for thought
by Nevada Smith
Sep 11, 2010 | 844 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don’t be surprised if Assembly minority leader Pete Goicoechea’s telephone at the Circle Ranch is busy these days.

The well-regarded Republican rancher and legislator, who represents all or part of eight Nevada counties, has his hands full after recent comments about the possibility of the re-enlistment of a sales tax on food to help balance the state’s badly ailing budget. With a possible shortfall of as much as $3 billion, there’s an enormous hole to fill. Realistically, there’s only so much cutting that can be done before the state’s government essentially ceases to function on a full-time basis.

So, it makes sense a revenue source will be needed. At least, Goicoechea sure thought so when he uttered a few candid words recently on Sam Shad’s “Nevada Newsmakers” television show.

“I believe that we should have had a 2 percent sales tax on food on the ballot this fall,” he said.

Even though it was too late to see such a proposition on the ballot in November, it sounded simple and straightforward enough. As he would later explain to more than one reporter, Goicoechea wasn’t actually saying he would support such a tax, only that it was one possibility.

My problem with Goicoechea’s suggestion isn’t only that it was insensitive to the poor, working class and fixed-income elderly who would be hit hardest by a sales tax on food. It was the idea that a rural legislator, who gets his mail smack in the heart of Nevada’s Big Gold country, would look anywhere other than his own backyard for relief at a time of record gold prices.

But who am I kidding? State legislators lack the collective courage to mount a meaningful challenge to mining in boom years or bust.

Where Goicoechea caught most of his criticism wasn’t from the left, but from the right side of his own Republican Party. At a time middle-of-the-road Republicans are being politically tarred and feathered across the country, and the Tea Party movement is notching anti-tax-ticket victories in important races, the overreaction to any conservative who suggests revenue enhancement will be needed is immediate and brutal.

In Goicoechea’s case, it came in the form of the instant outrage of conservative activist Chuck Muth, who like lightning sent vitriolic e-mail to thousands on his contact list and just as swiftly shouted for calls to go out to the assemblyman’s home and cell phone. In no time, Goicoechea had his hands and ears full.

When I described Muth as a “conservative activist” in a recent interview with Goicoechea, the legislator replied, “You can call him that if you want. I have a different name for him. … The bottom line with Chuck is, he speaks in twisted half-truths. Are we really going to lay off half the state’s employees?”

That’s about as close as he came to losing his cool.

As always, there’s a back-story here. Muth and his fellow hard-core types would like someone more like themselves in Goicoechea’s leadership position: Better to stall out the legislative process.

Because Goicoechea is by nature a mild-mannered conservative, he doesn’t fit the latest fashion in Nevada GOP politics. After all, he is actually known as a guy who is willing to listen to critics and consider opinions that differ from his own.

Oh, the humanity.

Although he reiterated that he wasn’t suggesting the tax be reinstated after it was eliminated following a vote of the people in 1980, he added, “I do feel it might have been appropriate” to put any new tax proposal before the public.

That makes perfect sense, don’t you think?

If you can get through on his phone, Goicoechea will tell you that himself.

  John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at or at (702) 383-0295.
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