Quick – what do Michael Milken and the Raiders have in common?

gallery of stars
Top: Michael Milken (Wikimedia Commons) and Mark Davis ((Zennie Abraham, CC BY-ND 2.0)) Bottom: Elon Musk and Brian Sandoval (Max Whittaker/Getty Images) and Steven Mnuchin (official Treasury Dept. photo).

It’s where the battery factory is. It’s also where Switch has a giant data center, and where Google is building one. It’s also where Blockchains owns 67,000 acres and plans to build a “smart city.”

Clearly the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) has trouble attracting investment.

At least that’s what your federal government laughably decided when it designated TRIC as an “opportunity zone,” a tax status ostensibly designed to attract businesses to low-income neighborhoods by granting really rather yummy tax breaks to investors.

Last year the Washington Post reported then-Gov. Brian Sandoval and then-Sen. Dean Heller, with an assist from land baron and brothel owner Lance Gilman, effectively lobbied the Trump administration to designate TRIC an opportunity zone.

“It shows how the new tax law, meant to simplify the tax code when it passed in December, is creating opportunities for gamesmanship — in this case by public officials and business executives seeking to exploit the Trump administration’s discretion in interpreting the law,” the Post reported.

Now comes the news that Gilman & Friends had some help. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported erstwhile junk bond king Michael Milken, who has an interest in several hundred acres within TRIC because of course he does, may have been even more instrumental than a Nevada governor and senator in getting the Trump administration to pretend the companies of TRIC don’t need a hand up, but a hand out.

Milken and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are about as best buds as you would imagine might be the case between the Junk Bond King and the Foreclosure King. Milken, according to the Times, worked over, er, lobbied Mnuchin pretty good. And, the paper reports…

Within days, the Treasury Department had shifted its position and was now willing to let the state nominate the area around the Nevada industrial park as an opportunity zone…

And then, the Times story continues…

Mr. Mnuchin spoke on the phone on May 8 with Mr. Sandoval. Forty-five minutes later, Mr. Sandoval formally nominated the site to be part of an opportunity zone, email records, including documents from Nevada, show.

Oh, wait. You’re wondering what this has to do with your beloved Las Vegas Raiders.

What? You thought Milken & brothel boy are the only ones in Nevada pretending to be down and out so as to get public bailouts? (How do you think the Raiders got here in the first place?)

As Dana Gentry reported in the Current earlier this year (in what is still the most well-rounded overview of opportunity zones in Nevada journalism), the Raiders stadium and much of the surrounding area is in an opportunity zone.

To be fair (if not balanced) the Raiders themselves do not own the stadium. Clark County taxpayers are mostly buying it for them. Clark County taxpayers are so nice! As a public facility, the football field is already exempt from federal capital gains taxes, the rates of which get sliced and diced for investors in opportunity zones.

But investors who’ve been purchasing nearby land on which presumably will mushroom countless Raiders-themed sports & hot wings bars and all the other exciting diversified economic enterprises sure to pop up — or so we’ve been told — in the shadow of Mid-Air Engine Failure Field, er, Allegiant Stadium, will be eligible for opportunity zone tax goodness. Presumably so will the Raiders themselves, for their investments in area parking lots and commercial buildings. Bank of America and the National Football League, which like taxpayers are investing in the stadium but unlike taxpayers are sure to see a return on their investment, might also be eligible for the tax breaks.

Even Clark County Commissioners, including some who approved the public subsidy for the stadium in 2016, are scratching their noggins over how and why low-income neighborhoods are not designated as opportunity zones but, ahem, other areas are.

“I’m just as excited about the stadium as anyone,” Commissioner Lawrence Weekly told an economic development official in May, “but don’t show me a map where millions and billions are being spent.”

Sorry, Commissioner Weekly. Economic development officials will show you a map of the magic football field whether you want to see it or not.

So what kind of a program gets touted as a benefit to low-income communities but is actually a giveaway to rich people. As Sarah Palin famously said to Katie Couric in another context, “All of them, Katie.”

Well, a lot of them, anyway.  In the case of opportunity zones, they were rolled into the massive rich people tax breaks bill Trump and his pet Republicans passed in 2017.

So that’s the feds’ excuse.

What’s Nevada’s?  Not for opportunity zones, but for making sure tax breaks and other financial advantages are herded to places that don’t need them while neglecting places that do?

The same thing that drove the Tesla and Raiders giveaways, along with tax breaks to Google, Amazon, Barclay’s and other corporations that don’t need tax breaks from a state that can’t afford to pay for basic public services: The default conviction, ingrained in politicians of both parties, that helping people is fine, if and when it’s possible and doesn’t cost too much money, but helping business … well, that’s what the grown-ups do. That’s where the action is.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.