Las Vegas Sun

January 25, 2015

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A taxing problem

Lawmakers should take the lead in fixing the underlying problem of the state budget

The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday refused to put on the November ballot three initiative petitions designed to change the way some taxes are collected and spent.

The initiatives, backed by Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson, would have changed tax policy in Nevada had they passed. Two would have diverted hotel room tax revenue to pay for education, transportation and public safety. The third initiative would have required ballot measures that raise taxes to garner two-thirds of the vote to succeed.

The Supreme Court ruled the petition supporters had failed to comply with legal requirements to place the measures on the ballot. The decision is welcome because making tax policy through initiatives is a terrible practice. Tax policy is far too complex to be boiled down to a simple yes-or-no ballot vote.

Instead, policy should be debated and crafted in the Legislature. Unfortunately, lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility to fix Nevada’s flawed tax policy.

The court’s ruling gives the Legislature a chance to do the right thing and make tax policy a major focus of next year’s session. Lawmakers will have to stand up to Gov. Jim Gibbons, who has worked to block any change. Instead, he would rather support the current system, which allows many businesses to go virtually untaxed and hangs the state budget on the cyclical ups and downs of the gaming and tourism industries.

As things stand, the state doesn’t collect enough money to adequately fund even the basics of government, including education, highways and public safety.

That is unacceptable, as many community leaders, including MGM Mirage chief Terry Lanni, have recognized. As he noted in a guest Where I Stand column in the Las Vegas Sun last Sunday, Lanni has pledged his support for efforts to change the system. We hope he and others can spur lawmakers to action.

It is time for lawmakers to do the job the people elected them to do — make Nevada a better place for all.

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