blank.gif (51 bytes) Second Thoughts
What Would Vincent
Van Gogh Have Thought of Taxing the Deaf?

by Ralph Heller, NPRI Senior Research Fellow

an Gogh was an idealist who couldn't have imagined that one day one of his paintings (Sunflowers) might sell at auction for $40 million. Indeed, of his 800 paintings and 700 drawings all but one remained unsold in his lifetime, and for the one painting he managed to sell he received a pitifully small price.

He lived his entire adult life in grinding poverty, surviving mostly on the generosity of his brother Theo. Yet his childhood had been very happy. The son of a pastor, he decided to follow his father's footsteps into the ministry, but he found the courses in theology too heavy and the road to reach his goal a bit too long.

Nevertheless, inwardly driven to minister, he went to a coal mining region in Belgium as an evangelist, but found the people unresponsive and unable to give him much financial support. Soon he was penniless, ill and discouraged, and it was only then that for the first time he took up painting, destined to live out his days as a typical "starving artist."

As Nevadans ponder Steve Wynn's breathtaking art collection they might well wonder what such a sensitive artist would think of Nevada's practice of granting tax breaks to buy art while continuing to tax the deaf, which brings us to yet another aspect of Nevada's medieval tax structure the state's bashful press is disinclined to investigate and report.

Are we possibly exaggerating? Consider: A typical hearing aid today costs between $2,500 and $3,000, although some cheaper ones are available. For many of today's citizens two hearing aids are necessary, for a total cost of between $5,000 and $6,000—plus sales tax of between $350 and $400. Think of it as another Nevada "privilege tax," levied on those who are "privileged" to be deaf.

But most alarming is what this failure to exempt hearing aids from Nevada's sales tax means for the parents of children born "profoundly deaf," an audiological term, because there are two variables that combine to make the tax burden unconscionable.

First, hearing aids are manufactured to individual specifications following audiological examinations, and those specifications tend to change from year to year, just like prescriptions for eye glasses.

And secondly, since hearing aids can function well only if they fit snugly in each ear, new aids must be purchased again and again for rapidly growing children. Thanks to those two variables, the parents of a "profoundly deaf" child can expect to shell out between $2,000 and $3,000 to cover sales tax charges on hearing aids and hearing aid batteries by the time the youngster graduates from college.

The author of Steve Wynn's tax break to buy art was Assembly Speaker Joe Dini, and now Senator Ernie Adler wants to extend the present sales tax exemption to cover works of art sold by Nevada artists worth more than $250. But there are no known plans forthcoming—from Dini, Adler or from Gov. Bob Miller for that matter—to exempt hearing aids from sales tax. To put this in moral perspective, note that all you have to do to avoid paying $2,000 to $3,000 in sales tax is to be lucky enough to have children with normal hearing.

Can there be anyone other than Nevada's politicians who doesn't know instinctively that this is sick—indeed, morally repugnant? On Christmas Eve, 1888, far more sensitive than the Nevada Legislature will ever be to human suffering, and upset at the perverse world around him, Vincent van Gogh cut off his left ear, or at least a part of it, and after several days in a mental hospital he finally took his own life. u

Ralph Heller, is Senior Consulting Editor of Nevada Journal.


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