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April 16, 2014

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Hands off our dollars, local leaders tell state

Municipalities can’t afford to help, tax committee is told

State leaders are eyeing local government coffers to help make up some of the state’s budget shortfall. Local governments got to make the case Tuesday that they’re hurting too.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has proposed taking 4 cents of the property tax away from Clark and Washoe counties and charging all counties an additional 1 percent fee for collecting the sales tax. For Clark County, the lost revenue would be $89.2 million in the next biennium.

George Stevens, Clark County’s chief financial officer, said the county has cut $50 million from its budget this year and will reduce spending by another $70 million next year.

Meanwhile, the county will have to pay more than $100 million a year to keep University Medical Center open and expects a shortfall at the hospital this fiscal year of $60 million.

“We can’t keep absorbing these losses and continue to provide core services,” Stevens told the Senate Taxation Committee.

Stevens said 99 percent of the 724,000 property parcels in Clark County have declined in value and a little more than half of owners will pay less property tax next year.

Mark Vincent, acting deputy manager of Las Vegas city government, said the city is also going to collect less property tax revenue.

Arguing that local governments have money to spare, Gibbons’ chief of staff, Josh Hicks, and Andrew Clinger, director of the state Administration Department, told the committee there is a disparity between the salaries of state officials and local government workers. The pay of local governments is 37.9 percent higher than that of the state, Clinger said.

During the two-hour hearing, local government representatives appeared to find an ally in the committee’s chairman.

“The testimony shows that the governor did not understand some of the ramifications of the property tax,” said Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas. “I won’t support it. Local governments can’t afford it.”

•••

A popular tax rebate for senior citizens would double under a bill introduced in the state Senate.

The rebates of up to $500 offset property taxes for homeowners or up to 8.5 percent of a renter’s annual rent. An estimated 16,000-17,000 low-income seniors currently qualify for the rebates, given to those at least 62 years of age with a household income of $24,016 or less.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, sponsored Senate Bill 122, which would push the maximum tax break to $1,000.

A $500 rebate “barely scratches the surface for what they need,” Woodhouse said. “I have no idea how far this piece of legislation will go, but we want to keep it on the front burner.”

Raising the rebates would cost the state an additional $1.5 million a year at a time when lawmakers must address a $2.4 billion budget shortfall.

Woodhouse said the bill would have to be placed on a priority list to be funded if sufficient money is found in the budget.

SB122 was referred to the Senate Taxation Committee for review.

•••

Taxes that fund transportation projects in Southern Nevada are — like all other tax revenue — down, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada General Manager Jacob Snow told lawmakers Tuesday.

Sales tax revenue for roads are down 5.3 percent and the gasoline tax is off 6 percent. Citing those dismal numbers Tuesday, Snow told the Senate Transportation, Energy and Infrastructure Committee that Southern Nevada is ready to tap federal stimulus dollars for transportation projects.

Snow estimates Clark County could receive $30 million to $40 million, which isn’t enough for a major project, but could be used to fill potholes and get a high-tech bus line

up and running on Boulder Highway.

“We have $1 billion in ‘shovel ready,’ ” he said. The stimulus “won’t come close” to solving the transportation needs in Nevada, but it can offer some relief.

Rapid transit money in the stimulus bill would go to the Boulder Highway Ace project, a bus line that will operate like a light rail system in a dedicated lane on Boulder Highway with stations, platforms and traffic signal priority.

There are also as many as 12 road resurfacing projects that could be funded with the stimulus money, Snow said.

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