Yogi Berra Takes Over Carson City

The legendary Yankee star Yogi Berra once said that he didn’t say a lot of the things he said. That’s why he’s known for saying strange things. One of which was, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

And Yogi never even has been to a legislative session in Carson City—so far as we know.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick proposed to close loopholes in “entertainment” taxes. State Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis and several of his Democratic colleagues proposed a higher payroll tax for larger businesses.

Gov. Brian Sandoval responded that he would veto any tax increase because it might jeopardize Nevada’s economic recovery. You know, the recovery he’ll take credit for during his re-election campaign. It turns out the recovery is so fragile that the mining industry can’t afford another 2 percent in payroll taxes to fund education. Which Sandoval says he’s increased funding for because it’s such a high priority. Especially for English language learners. Somebody has been noticing the expansion of the Hispanic population and that he got only about one-third of its vote in 2010.

Sandoval is doing a Yogi. He’s reminding us of his 2010 self when, during a Republican primary he couldn’t have lost if he had announced he was really a Democrat, he said no new taxes so often that it was hard not to think that his needle was stuck. At the time, some of those who had seen him as a reasonable sort said not to worry, that he wasn’t that far out there. He was, and he would have stayed there if the Nevada Supreme Court hadn’t held it unconstitutional for the state to take some of its funding from Clark County. That blew a hole in the state budget, and he agreed to support extending some existing taxes that were about to sunset. That enabled Nevada to maintain its Fourth World status instead of becoming Fifth World.

But Sandoval isn’t alone here. Kirkpatrick and Denis are engaged in Yogi-ism.

• They have proposed to apply Band-Aids to amputations. A quarter of a century ago, Price Waterhouse conducted a study of Nevada’s tax system and said, to summarize, that it stinks. The solution wasn’t to raise the taxes they propose to raise or close the loopholes they propose to close, although they are trying to do what they think may be possible. We need broader-based taxes and less regressive taxes. And their predecessors in the legislature have pretty much done what the two of them are doing: trying to hammer a couple of nails into a building that has collapsed.

• They are trying to be reasonable. Set aside that State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson is pushing higher mining taxes, and that maybe he means it and maybe he’s trying to head off a business tax initiative. Republicans will attack Democrats as being tax-and-spend liberals (if you doubt that, note that the national party has been attacking the Obama administration for doing what Republicans have done for decades). It’s tempting to say that if you’re going to be accused of something anyway, you may as well do it. But Yogi gives us another way to look at it: the worst place to pitch him was down the middle because he loved to swing at balls that seemed unhittable, and he managed to be a Hall of Fame player. Take the hint. Swing at the bad balls.

• They are forgetting the key numbers: 29-13 in the Assembly and 15-6 in the State Senate. Those aren’t the Democratic majorities. Those are the Clark County majorities. The speaker and the leader should get together with the Clark County delegation and say they need to vote together to raise taxes on the north. If Republicans refuse, say, great, you don’t care about your constituents, and campaign on that.

Too simple? Maybe. But the other ways haven’t seemed to work, and we should be able to learn from it. As Yogi said, you can observe a lot by watching.