guest column:

Education, not a billionaire, deserves our tax money

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Ruben Kihuen

This week, legislators debating the merits of a stadium deal involving nearly $1 billion in public financing will face a stark choice in Carson City. Deciding how we invest public money is a reflection of our values and priorities as a state.

I am a Raiders fan, and I would love to bring an NFL team to Las Vegas. On a fall weekend, I’d like nothing more than to head out to catch a football game. And I am not opposed to using some public funding to help build a stadium.

What I am opposed to is asking taxpayers to shoulder $750 million of the cost, especially as a handout to one of the wealthiest people in the world. Sheldon Adelson could easily pay for the entire stadium himself; if he wants the profits, he should be expected to bear more of the cost. And this is not about one billionaire; if Bill Gates came to Nevada and asked for nearly $1 billion for a stadium, I would still be adamantly opposed.

As legislators take up this proposal, we should go point by point and talk about the absurd $620 million annual economic activity projections and unrealistic 46-events-per-year baseline. Why would this be paid for with a 33-year bond that would cost us well over $1 billion? If the public bears so much risk, why do they not share in the profits?

But because many seem intent on ramming this through with as little scrutiny as possible, I will focus on the big picture.

At a time of soaring economic inequality, we should be asking the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share in taxes. This proposal is a taxpayer giveaway to a billionaire.

Last session, Gov. Brian Sandoval, Republicans and Democrats put aside party politics and asked corporations to pay their fair share to improve our deeply underfunded education system. I am proud of the bipartisan effort to pass the largest public investment in Nevada schools in our state’s history, but we still have a long way to go.

World-class infrastructure and a well-educated, well-trained workforce are how we attract companies and good-paying jobs to Nevada. That’s where this nearly $1 billion should go — into an infrastructure bank to repair road and bridges, raise teacher pay and improve our classrooms. That would be a real investment in the future that pays economic dividends for decades to come.

An army of lobbyists will say that’s a different issue. They’ll say room taxes are meant for projects like the stadium, not education.

They are wrong. Right now, 39 percent of the existing room tax already goes toward education.

They offer a false promise. As we’ve seen in most other cities, the real impact is a short-term boost in construction jobs, followed by a marginal increase in economic activity and low-wage jobs.

Case in point: The City of Oakland is still paying debt on the stadium it renovated to lure the Raiders back in the mid-1990s.

The Las Vegas Valley has been through tough times since the crash of the housing market, when Wall Street bankers and the wealthy elite risked other people’s money to line their own pockets. The table and stakes are different, but I can’t help but see the connection to this week’s debate.

I want a state-of-the-art stadium and an NFL team in Las Vegas as much as anyone. I believe it would bring our community together.

But that’s no excuse for accepting a terrible deal.

I hope my fellow legislators — Democrats and Republicans — will join me in opposing this massive handout for a billionaire.

Ruben Kihuen is a state senator representing District 10.

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