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August 28, 2014

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Q+A: Bob Coffin:

Get the room tax increase enacted now, senator urges

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Sam Morris

Democratic Sen. Bob Coffin of Las Vegas says the public will accept tax hikes if they believe the extra money will be spent well.

State Sen. Bob Coffin doesn’t mind the word “taxes.” He says we might need more of them.

The Las Vegas Democrat, who was first elected in 1982 to the Assembly and won a Senate seat four years later, is heading into his last legislative session next year.

In 2007 Coffin was a member of both the Senate finance and the Senate taxation committees.

After leaders of both parties sat down with the Sun last week to talk about Nevada’s fiscal problems, we asked Coffin to add his views to round out the discussion.

We edited this Q&A for space and clarity.

Coffin: I’m not saying permanent tax increases are absolutely necessary. Take business taxes. I don’t see anything wrong with adopting a temporary tax, a surcharge, for a period of time. Like when you’re seeing a period of rapid growth.

Sun: Some people say we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. The governor says he won’t support new taxes. Your response?

He’s got a philosophical, ideological approach. When he says those kinds of things, he’s just spouting ideological cant. It’s not an approach. That’s just rhetoric.

Because of the growth we have, we have problems and needs of a community much larger. If the local government would slow down growth by issuing fewer permits, we’d have a lot less problems. Local governments have to be smarter.

You’re talking about more revenue and slowing down growth — two issues other Democrats seem reluctant to discuss.

We had such a hell-for-leather approach to growth, people don’t like to offend developers, contractors, builders. We’ve been supportive of growth; those people have reciprocated, through campaign contributions and support of other things. There’s a tendency not to want to bite the hand that feeds you.

As for more revenue, that translates into the “tax” word. The public doesn’t mind tax increases if you’re going to spend it in the right way.

To be clear, then: We need a tax increase?

The proposal to raise the room tax by 3 percentage points is a no-brainer. I think we should have a special session right away to enact that room tax. I don’t believe in undercutting the Legislature by having some sort of unnecessary advisory ballot question to tell us what we already know. We need the money.

Do we need a study of the state’s revenue system and needs?

We don’t need any more studies. I was on the committee that made the report in 1991. It was encouraging a broadening of the tax system. It said we rely too heavily on gaming and sales. That’s still true. It’s pretty obvious the chief beneficiaries of rapid growth in this area do not pay enough.

Take the Chamber of Commerce. They need to come together and agree with us, instead of just saying no to everything that has to do with taxes. They’ll dispute that, and say they’re at the table, but that’s not true. They’re there for a while, and then they say no and walk away.

What about an advisory ballot question on increased taxes?

Legislators are elected to make those decisions in a republic. I’ve cast a lot of key tax votes in my almost 26 years, and I can’t think of a legislator who lost his office due to a tax increase or a new tax. If you do the right thing, the public will accept it. The public might gripe. But they’ll realize that taxes are necessary.

Many people believe Sen. Dina Titus lost the gubernatorial race in 2006 because of votes to increase taxes. Do you believe that hurt her?

I don’t know if it was that. Some people don’t like a woman. Some people don’t like someone with a Southern accent. It could be a whole cocktail of reasons. Let me put it this way: I don’t think anyone lost reelection because of taxes.

There’s a belief that if (Assembly Speaker Barbara) Buckley advocates a broader tax, it could hurt her politically.

I think she has shown real leadership with the room tax proposal. Showing leadership always brings risks.

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