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Nevada Democrats still afraid of the ‘T-word’


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith asks a question during a meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on the second day of the 2011 legislative session Tuesday, February 8, 2011 in Carson City. Smith is the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee for the 2013 legislative session.

Sun, Jan 6, 2013 (2 a.m.)

Nothing trips up Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers more than asking the simple question of whether they support raising taxes.

“My bottom-line goal on the revenue portion is to have a full discussion about it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.

“There’s not an easy answer,” said Assembly Speaker-elect Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas. “There’s not a yes-or-no answer to that question.”

“I can’t answer that,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee. “I think we need to have a tax discussion. I think there’s common agreement we need to look at our tax structure.”

Less than a month before the Legislature meets, Democratic leaders are once again approaching the tax issue cautiously, creating a mushy contour for a tax debate that has stretched more than a decade. It also suggests the 2013 legislative session on taxes will be dictated largely by the policies set by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Sandoval has been clear on taxes. He will extend some or all of the 2009 temporary tax increase — worth about $620 million for the state. But he won’t support any further tax increase. It’s a position echoed by many Republican lawmakers.

Democrats, meanwhile, say they want to extend the full 2009 tax increase. But in interviews with the Sun, they hedged on whether they would seek to increase taxes beyond that, even as they suggested the state wasn't spending enough on education.

But they do promise a “frank discussion” about taxes, spending and the direction of the state.

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Mo Denis asks a question during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on the second day of the 2011 legislative session Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, in Carson City.

“Everything is on the table,” Denis said. “I’m not going into session thinking we need to raise taxes this session, especially with the economy the way it is. Going into the session, we’re going to discuss revenue, to see if it’s adequate for Nevada.”

Kirkpatrick said the state first needs to “clean up” its tax structure — weeding out exemptions and possibly broadening the structure.

She said there would be no last-minute tax plans without time for proper vetting — a characteristic of Democratic proposals in 2009 and 2011.

But she wouldn’t directly answer the question: “Do you support a tax increase?”

“We’ll be having the discussion early,” she said in response.

But talk is just that: talk.

“There’s no leadership of an effort to raise taxes this session,” said Mike Sloan, a gaming lobbyist and veteran of the 2003 tax fight with late former Gov. Kenny Guinn. “I do think there’s a recognition that we have unmet needs.”

But the left wing of the Democratic coalition is frustrated.

“They’re saying, ‘Why fall on our swords if it won’t go anywhere anyway?’” said Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “The problem with that is you don’t move the ball further ahead. We have these dysfunctional discussions.”

In 2009 and 2011, Democratic leaders hid their tax proposals until the final days of the legislative sessions. In 2009, the tax plan wasn’t introduced until the final weeks of session, when one Senate tax hearing was held at midnight. In 2011, Democratic leadership waited until about a month before session ended to reveal a gross business tax.

In 2009, lawmakers succeeded in passing an increase of existing taxes over the veto of Gov. Jim Gibbons. In 2011, though, the Democrats’ new tax proposal went nowhere.

Instead, that tax plan, known as the margin tax, was taken up as an initiative petition by the state teachers union, the Nevada State Education Association. If the teachers win a challenge now before the Nevada Supreme Court, lawmakers will have to consider the tax within the first 40 days of the 2013 session.

That, Fulkerson said, could force the discussion about higher taxes.

“The margin tax will be like a nuclear bomb dropped on the front step of the Legislature,” he said.

After all, if a tax is up for a vote before the Legislature, lawmakers have to push a red or green button. And that’s as clear an answer as they can give.

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Discussion: 11 comments so far…

  1. We must CUT taxes to allow our economy to recover. K-12 is a failure but we must do something for our kids--PRIVATIZE K-12. Students take the funding with them: to home school, private / parochial schools, charter schools..... We also need to right-size government employee compensation especially in the cities, counties, and school districts. In addition to exorbitant salaries, the taxpayers are paying ALL the PERS for these people. Non-government employees have taken hits averaging 10% of compensation due to the economic slow down. Many others are long-term unemployed. We need to cut back on government spending at all levels.

  2. Nevada's Sales and Use Tax needs to be administratively FIXED. We have so many non-legislated exemptions that the SUT law is un-administrable. Appeals Officers have given away the farm time after time, without legal reasoning. Therefore, businesses don't know what is and what is not taxable. Their legal and accounting advisers encourage the tactic of do not report it, if in doubt. Then when an auditor finds it (small chance) they can appeal and get away WITHOUT PAYING the tax. We can also look at correcting the inequities inherent in past legislation--calling something "installation" (rather than fabrication or setup) labor exempts the charge from tax. Unfair. Similarly, personal grooming services would be a progressive means of enhancing revenue--if ya pay $15 for a haircut, minimal tax. If ya pay $500, you can afford the tax. The NAC's have been corrupted by the Nevada Tax Commission where un-elected potentates have given away our tax base--exempting all sorts of things that someone suggested might not be solely tangible personal property but might include a smidgen of intangible design, fabrication, minerals (real property), and on and on.

  3. Who are the idiots who think giving government more of our money is the answer to getting us out of this recession?

    Obama's Idiots and Democrats.

  4. It never ceases to amaze me that these topics have been bandied around DC for a half century at least. Taxes, spending, entitlements, and lobbying all need to be totally wiped clean and restructured from ground zero. We are close to being bankrupt and no one in Washington seems to give a damn. Both sides of the table are filled with liars, thieves, and self-serving pieces of garbage. This latest debacle is simply one more nail in the coffin of America. A phoney "fix" to the so-called fiscal cliff which did nothing to address the deficit and debt and in fact added to the overall national debt. The Sandy help money bill is another phoney piece of garbage from the elected morons. Why did this bill include money for NASCAR and other lobbyist's projects which have nothing to do with the storm or it's aftermath?

  5. Nevada isn't scared of taxes. Just tired of the reckless spending of citizen's tax dollars to please casinos.

  6. The lack of an educated workforce causes many businesses to avoid Las Vegas - despite our tax advantages. Lawmakers must understand that to fix unemployment (and even the budget in the long run) we must invest in education and infrastructure. An educated workforce combined with our current tax structure and low cost of living means labor that is relatively cheaper compared to other cities. This will attract businesses, decreasing unemployment. When the employment rate is increased, spending increases and the housing market rises from the sewer. This is how to fix Las Vegas. The unfortunate fact is Republicans don't care about education, and local Joes don't understand economics to realize that spending on these matters is actually a wise investment where all parties benefit.

  7. Joel 6:54: Right on, Dude. Bryan re-think it. We have millions of highly educated UNEMPLOYED Americans while K-12 and higher ed cry for more money, more money. The educated workforce is there--but the education is near useless. Who needs a college degree in science or arts when the good jobs are in mechanics and hi-tech robotics? Finally we've seen some token-media-attention to tech schools and apprenticeships. Those administering such programs keep saying that even the best candidates are woefully short on reading and writing English, math, CAD, work ethic basics such as telling time and showing up on time.

  8. Bob 4:18. Please also consider our changing demographics. Government keeps demanding more money to provide for the masses of kids--illegal kids and unsupported kids (kids on welfare because their parents aren't supporting them.) So while our economy has shrunk and even at full steam ahead would not have the extra money, unthinking adults and politicos think they can pull more and more money out of the economy to finance government waste. No wonder there are continuing financial issues.