Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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CARSON CITY:

7 GOP votes for a tax hike: A trend?

Room tax splits Assembly caucus, draws immediate conservative ire

The key number in the Assembly vote Tuesday to increase the hotel room tax, mostly in Clark County, was seven. Why? Because that’s the number of Republicans who voted for it.

Splitting the Republican caucus, including a yea vote from Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, was thought to be a key early indicator of whether a broader tax package can pass with the needed two-thirds later on.

“Constituents expect us to be at the table, and to help make the tough decisions,” Gansert said.

Sure enough, enforcer of conservative orthodoxy, smash-mouth operative Chuck Muth, blasted Gansert for voting for the increase. Expect it to get nasty here in the capital.

Gov. Jim Gibbons projected that a 3 percentage point room tax increase, to a maximum of 13 percent, would raise $292 million over the biennium. Legislative staff has said it would raise $232 million.

The seven Republicans in favor of the tax increase noted that voters in Clark and Washoe counties had approved it in a ballot advisory question and that the money is needed to fill the budget hole.

“We hope this is a bargaining chip when other taxes come up,” Assistant Minority Leader Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said.

•••

Sen. Bob Coffin wants motorists who reside in Nevada and register their vehicles out of state to pay up. The chairman of the Senate Taxation Committee said the state should consider creating a hotline to allow citizens to report residents who are avoiding the government services tax by not registering their vehicles in Nevada.

“We don’t know how much we are missing,” Coffin told his committee.

Some estimates peg the lost revenue at $3 million, but Coffin called that figure “very low.”

Motorists have 60 days to register their vehicles after moving to Nevada. The fine for late registration is $6. A motorist pulled over for driving an unregistered vehicle faces a fine of $250-$500.

The government services tax yielded $91 million for the Clark County School District last year, according to a district official.

There was no bill before the committee. Coffin urged the city, School District and state officials to come up with some ideas.

Coffin said he won’t hold another hearing on the matter “until there is a solution.”

•••

If they’re smart, they’ll use a red herring. That was the wisdom of a few lobbyists, wealthy white men all, assembled Tuesday outside the Legislature.

They were discussing the smartest strategy for rolling out a tax plan.

The logic goes like this: Release a tax plan, and the opposition quickly lines up and kills it. So release a tax plan you have no intention of supporting (that’s your red herring) and let everyone attack that while you secretly prepare and pass your actual plan.

After the words “If they’re smart” there was laughter.

Sun reporter David McGrath Schwartz contributed to this story.

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