Let Tesla pay for vouchers, with its vouchers

Gov. Brian Sandoval wants to use vouchers to direct $60 million of public money to private schools.

As it happens, the state of Nevada has already issued millions of dollars in vouchers, of a sort. Well, certificates, anyway. Here’s what one looks like:

That voucher, er, certificate, was the first one granted to Tesla. As of this month, Tesla has been granted tax credit certificates totaling $46.6 million. Tesla has sold at least $20 million worth of the credits thus far, to MGM Resorts. That means when MGM owes the state of Nevada money to pay gaming taxes, MGM can just give the state beautifully embossed tax credit certificates instead.

Unfortunately, unlike actual money, the state can’t turn around and use beautifully embossed tax credit certificates for … anything. They are worthless.

So that is $46.6 million that the state should collect in tax revenue that could be spent on something useful, like public schools, or even something the opposite of useful, like private school vouchers. But the state doesn’t collect it. Tesla pockets it — or at least Tesla pocketed however much MGM agreed to pay for the credits. That’s the point of tax credits — the buyer pays less than the certificate’s face value, but the certificate counts as full value when the buyer uses it to pay taxes. MGM slashes its effective tax burden, Tesla hoovers the cash, and the state of Nevada, including Brian Sandoval’s holy sacred private school voucher program amen, gets doodly-squat.

The state does not report how much MGM paid Tesla for tax credits. The director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Steve Hill, has suggested the price is very close to the value of the certificate. But really why would the state even bother to know or care? Once it issues a tax credit it means the state will never see the tax dollars it is owed, no matter how much MGM pays Tesla.

In the course of submissively bending over for Elon Musk, Sandoval and your Nevada legislature awarded Tesla a total of $195 million in tax credits. Maybe Sandoval and the legislature should ask Tesla if, instead of keeping tax credit revenue to itself, it will kindly fork it over to pay for Sandoval’s beloved vouchers. Then Nevada could have a robust school privatization program approximating the size and scope originally intended, that is, one that would truly impress Sandoval kindred spirit Betsy DeVos.

See? I’m always happy to offer innovative public-private solutions to pressing problems.

Alas, if Tesla refuses, Sandoval can just pretend that millions for vouchers does not mean millions from public schools. After all, if he says something small but nice about, oh, the building trades, enough Democrats can be expected to go along.