Son of Runnymede
June 15, 2005
By Steven Miller
2077 E. Sahara Avenue, Suite A

Las Vegas Nevada 89104


Published online in The Common Voice
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Business Nevada - A Service of NPRI (Nevada Policy Research Institute)

It was on this date, June 15, in the year 1215, that English barons forced a money-wasting and tax-happy king to stop abusing his power and acknowledge that they had rights he could not violate.

Beside the Thames River, on Runnymede Meadows, King John, at sword point, was forced to put his signature and royal seal beneath 63 promises to mend his ways.

They were the 63 clauses of the Magna Carta.

It was the first real Bill of Rights. And it was intended, in large part, to preserve from royal predation the property of free men.

The American Bill of Rights, too, was intended to protect our rights, liberties and property from the predation of rapacious government.

“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy,” wrote the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. “One’s right to life, liberty, and property… may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

Unfortunately, in Nevada today, the recognition of our rights of property clearly DOES depend upon the “vicissitudes” of politics. Every recent Legislature has become a workshop in schemes to prey upon Nevada businesses.

In 2003 it was the huge, long fight to plunder the Silver State with America’s most detested and destructive tax, a general Gross Receipts levy.

Though that was defeated, the session still imposed a barely camouflaged income tax, camouflaged by routing it through employers and calling it a “payroll” tax.

Then, this year, the promise of property tax relief for all was cynically turned into a discriminatory and unconstitutional split roll property tax on business.

Moreover, Nevada political leaders increasingly explicitly assert positions that deny any real validity to the rights of business people to keep their own property.

Consider Assembly Bill 322, sponsored by Speaker of the Assembly Richard Perkins. That bill asserted, in effect, that because major Silver State hospitals are of great importance to the health of Nevadans, hospital property rights should be voided, and their investors and operating personnel legally compelled to function in state servitude.

Just last Friday Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus asserted on television that government growth cannot be subjected to any limits, because there are always new things, she thinks, it should do.

Not to leave Republicans out, Senate Majority Leader William Raggio has, in a more muted way, expressed similar sentiments.

The evidence is much too clear: We Nevada taxpayers are in dire need of our own Magna Carta -- a Bill of Rights to protect our rights to keep our own earnings and property.

Not too surprisingly, indications suggest there will be a grassroots initiative to put a Colorado-style Taxpayer Bill of Rights measure on the general election ballot in 2006 and 2008.

Under such a constitutional amendment, state spending and debt cannot grow faster than the combined rate of annual population growth and inflation. Some of the surplus revenue above that cap would go into budget stabilization and emergency funds.

The rest would be returned to taxpayers.

Tax increases or spending above the amount of the inflation-population growth limit could become law only IF voters approve.

Such a Taxpayer Bill of Rights -- sometimes called by its acronym, TABOR -- operates at all levels of government: state, local and school district. In each case, the government body with the excess revenue can approach voters with a plan to spend a certain amount of a surplus on a particular project. A vote is held -- at a general election -- and if the project is approved, the refund is cancelled.

It’s a very reasonable approach, obliging governmental agencies at all levels to set priorities and spend rationally. In the one state where such a Bill of Rights for Taxpayers has been fully implemented -- Colorado -- the impact has been overwhelmingly positive.

Economists measure a state’s overall economic health by gross state product per capita.

On that measure, in the 10 years following TABOR, Colorado leapt from 15th to 9th among the states.

It was the third greatest improvement in the nation -- far surpassing Nevada’s, which, on this measure, lags most states.

Clause No. 41 of the Magna Carta required King John to let “all merchants … safely and securely … pass through England … for the purpose of buying and selling, free from all evil taxes….”

We should all heed the words of Rudyard Kipling: “Your rights were won at Runnymede… Forget not, after all these years, / The Charter signed at Runnymede.”


Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute and editor of BusinessNevada

For the entire June 15, 2005, edition of BusinessNevada, go to and click on Archives.