Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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Jeff Simpson sees hope in a broad-based business tax pushed by the head of MGM Mirage

I had a long talk Friday with MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni, the day after he took his pitch for a broad-based business tax to the annual meeting of the Nevada Development Authority.

Lanni's speech to the NDA blasted gaming tax initiatives and government by initiative, but his most interesting remarks concerned his call for a business tax that would bring fiscal stability to the state while providing the resources to improve critical needs, especially education.

He pledged to use the resources of his company, the state's biggest private-sector employer, investor and taxpayer, to work with the NDA to find a tax policy that works for everyone.

His goal might prove difficult to achieve (the NDA's toll-free number is listed on its Web site as 1-888-4-NO-TAXES), but Lanni told me he's hopeful that the state's current fiscal situation, which he said was in a state of chaos if not in crisis, will persuade formerly reluctant businesses to contribute to a fair solution.

Although Lanni made clear he's speaking on behalf of his company and not the entire gaming industry, he said he expects most companies and executives to support his effort.

Lanni said he hasn't spoken about his goal with Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, a key supporter of Gov. Jim Gibbons, who has made "No new taxes" his mantra and has refused to consider new taxes as a solution to the state's current fiscal shortfall.

"We're not close," Lanni said of Adelson - but he said he has tried to reach out to Las Vegas Sands executives to bring them on board.

He said he's had preliminary discussions with other gaming executives, mentioning Boyd Gaming Corp. specifically.

When asked whether all casino owners would support his plan, he said: "Maybe some won't - libertarians who are philosophically opposed to all taxes."

But it is nongaming businesses that have proved to be the toughest obstacles to prior tax reform efforts.

Lanni said it will be important to impartially identify wasteful state spending and cut it to inspire confidence in those who are being asked to contribute more.

He said he's spoken to mining executives, car dealers and leaders of other industries who have indicated their willingness to contribute to a new tax system.

One big obstacle he acknowledged he'll have to work around: the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, which he says is dominated by a few folks who "believe it is their God-given right not to pay taxes."

While discussing his speech Lanni said he liked Sun columnist Jon Ralston's 10-point fiscal plan, published last Sunday - "and I often don't agree with Jon," he noted.

If Lanni and community-minded business leaders can find common ground and create a fair and stable tax, then persuade lawmakers to enact it, it would be a crowning achievement, the kind of change that would allow Nevada to become a much better place to live.

Despite Gibbons' promise never to raise taxes, Lanni said he doesn't regret his strong support for the governor during his primary and election campaigns.

"I still support the governor and I'd still vote for him if the election were held tomorrow," Lanni said.

But that doesn't mean Lanni agrees with Gibbons' pledge.

Lanni believes that if business leaders can craft a broad-based plan that protects small businesses, they can present it to Gibbons and persuade the governor to change his mind on his tax promise.

I'm not sure about that, but I sure hope he's right.

You should hope so, too.

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