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April 19, 2014

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Buckley: State should get tougher on delinquent taxpayers

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, says the state should be more aggressive in going after delinquent taxpayers and she has questions about giving them an amnesty period.

“Why is it fair to all our Nevada businesses who are struggling and paying their taxes and some that are not?” she asked.

Buckley said she did not want to criticize the state Department of Taxation until she had a chance to talk to them. But there reportedly is $100 million in uncollectable taxes.

At a meeting with the Carson City Chamber of Commerce today, Buckley said she had “mixed feelings” about Gov. Jim Gibbons' program to allow businesses to pay their back taxes without penalty in a two-month program that has been extended. So far, the state has collected $27 million from these delinquent businesses.

“On one hand, we certainly were collecting revenue in the amnesty program and we certainly need revenue,” she said. “On the other hand, did any of these businesses previously not pay taxes? Were they given amnesty in the past?”

The taxation department has declined to reveal the names of the estimated 2,000 businesses that took advantage of the amnesty program. Buckley said those names should be public.

The legislative fiscal analysis division is now developing a study that should be completed in 30 days of all the exemptions and abatements given to businesses. And Buckley wants to take a hard look to see if they are justified.

Asked which exemptions she might look at, Buckley replied the green energy, economic development and STAR (Sales and Tax Revenue Bonds) bonds. “It may not be to eliminate them but what is the process” in passing these exemptions.

The poor economy may mean state budget cuts of 18 to 20 percent, not the 14 percent being advocated by the governor, Buckley said.

She said the budget should be overhauled, but she is not advocating new taxes to the next session of the Legislature. It would be revenue neutral. The only tax hike she is supporting are the ballot questions in Clark and Washoe County to raise the room tax to bring in an extra $150 million to the state.

After the meeting, Phillip Harrison, president of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, said many people appreciated the opportunity to see the Buckley presentation. But, when asked, he said, “I don’t know” if the audience of about 50 people supported her ideas.

There were comments from the audience that the Legislature should not shift its problems to county and city governments by closing such things as mental health clinics in the rural counties.

Dennis Johnson, a candidate for the Assembly, said the state is piling up an “obscene overtime amount” at the senior management level. Buckley said the state may be able to save money by filling some of the vacant position that could eliminate the overtime.

Businessman Belmont Reid told Buckley there are programs “the state has no business being in.” And there is mismanagement of some agencies.

Part of Buckley’s plan is to evaluate these programs to make sure they are working.

One woman wanted to know why the state’s gaming tax is below 7 percent when other states impose taxes of 20 to 27 percent. Buckley said that there was a limit on casinos in these other states while Nevada had wide open competition. For instance, she said Detroit had a limit of three casinos.

Buckley said that in her town hall meetings there has been an “amazing” amount of support for imposing a lottery.

Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Eugene Paslov said Nevada is the third largest producer of gold in the world. “Mining has been exploiting the citizens of Nevada and we get littler profit from it.” He said the mining industry should pay its “fair share” of the taxes.

But Buckley replied that the limit on mine taxes is in the Nevada Constitution.

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