North Las Vegas city officials have picked a fight with new Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick — one of the Legislature’s most powerful members — during the first week of Nevada’s legislative session.
North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck said the city has suffered under unfair funding compared with other Nevada local governments and has thrown a stone at one of Kirkpatrick’s pet issues: reforming how the state distributes a bundle of money to local governments.
Kirkpatrick spent the past two years at the helm of a committee that studied how local tax revenue is distributed and thought she had unanimous support for a measure now under consideration by the full Legislature.
But North Las Vegas, which Kirkpatrick represents, is not happy.
“I was not speaker when I was passionate about this, and I am just as passionate as I was back then,” Kirkpatrick told Buck and other North Las Vegas officials at a legislative committee meeting Thursday.
At stake is $25.8 million in additional local government tax allocations from the state to which Buck believes North Las Vegas is entitled. Buck, facing an ailing city budget, argues the additional money would bring the city up to par with other Clark County municipalities.
She said other cities get more money for their residents under a complicated formula to distribute the consolidated tax — a pot of six different levies including sales, liquor and tobacco taxes.
“That is very understandable to me. I hope it is to you also, why this formula needs to be changed,” Buck said.
Kirkpatrick, raising her voice, said she was “not going to lie to North Las Vegas residents today.”
“This formula was never based on population, and I have freakin’ said that for two years,” she said. “I never told anybody anything different.”
The tax revenue routes from the state to local governments through a labyrinthine formula are so complex it took an entire committee meeting to explain it to new legislators earlier this week. Population is one factor in that arcane equation.
Kirkpatrick knows the formula well, having chaired a legislative study committee last year that helped formulate the bill with which Buck took issue.
In addition to the six meetings of Kirkpatrick’s study committee, local government groups met more than 40 times last year to make recommendations to Kirkpatrick’s committee. But North Las Vegas officials said they could not reach a satisfactory agreement with other local governments when it came to the formula.
“The politics have never allowed for a truly productive discussion until today, so thank you again for letting us have this discussion,” Buck told the committee.
North Las Vegas lobbyist Dan Musgrove said the city had tried to work out their problems without asking the state for $25 million, but that approach had failed.
“It’s like a family of siblings fighting over the same toy, and sometimes you have to go to mom and dad and say, 'Can you help us solve this?'” he said.
Kirkpatrick disagreed with the story that North Las Vegas had been given short shrift in discussions.
“There are no politics in this room,” she said. “We are having a discussion and we spent eight months doing it.”
Kirkpatrick, clearly irate, called the North Las Vegas officials back to the table as they were leaving the hearing on Thursday and asked them to explain their $25.8 million amendment.
“Let's just cut to the chase,” she said. “Let's see the amendment.”
When Al Zochowski, North Las Vegas finance director, began to explain the amendment using financial terms like EAV for “estimated assessed [property] values,” Kirkpatrick cut in again.
“Honestly, for the committee, it was the first time on Tuesday they heard that, so not everybody is going to know EAV,” she said.
During the hearing, other local government representatives testified in support of Kirkpatrick’s bill, leaving North Las Vegas as the outlier. (The city of Fernley also is protesting the formula via a lawsuit.)
“We really appreciate Marilyn Kirkpatrick,” Josh Foley, Lyon County comptroller, said in testimony to the legislative committee.
“I, too, want to thank Speaker Kirkpatrick,” Jeff Fontaine with the Nevada Association of Counties said in testimony.
North Las Vegas officials said other local governments would not lose money under the amendment they are proposing. But it would, in effect, put North Las Vegas first in line for any new money.
Buck is seeking this $25.8 million amendment at a time when North Las Vegas is facing financial difficulties.
As the hearing moved into its second hour, city officials faced more questions from legislators.
“This is how this is perceived: You want this $25 million, and you do need it — there’s no question you do need it — and there’s been inequities in (consolidated tax). But at the end of the day, what would you do with the money?” Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said.
Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, said the discussion was devolving.
“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas, right?” she said to laughs in the committee room.
At the end of the hearing, the chairwoman, Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, called the meeting to a close with no action on North Las Vegas’ request.
“They don’t always play nice together,” she said, referring to state and local governments.
After the hearing, Buck said she does not think she got off to a bad start with the new speaker.
“Absolutely not,” she said.