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April 19, 2014

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Coalition may coalesce to do something lawmakers wouldn’t — address taxes

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Jim Hollister of Genoa, Nev., joins about two dozen people for a demonstration by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada on the first day of the legislative special session Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010, in Carson City. PLAN was trying to highlight their desire for increased taxes on mining given that three of the five largest mining companies in Nevada are Canadian.

Billy Vassiliadis

Billy Vassiliadis

Business and labor leaders are talking about forming a pro-tax coalition, saying they are frustrated by lawmakers’ inability to change the state’s revenue structure during its biennial 120-day effort at policymaking.

Nevada Resort Association lobbyist and Democratic power broker Billy Vassiliadis said “some semblance of a broad coalition” will come together in the next 60 days. Its goals will “depend on what the broadest number of people want to do. Poll after poll show the public doesn’t want to see more cuts in education,” he said. The coalition will have to figure out what people will support.

In the post-session disappointment of 2011, labor unions and many large-business leaders, particularly from gaming and mining, declared Nevada’s legislative system broken. Getting two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate, as required under the state’s constitution, to raise taxes was simply too high a hurdle given Nevada’s fractious politics.

Gaming and mining have long advocated for a broad-based business tax, prompting some segments of the larger business community to push back.

“There’s been no decision made by the NRA if and what (it would) support,” Vassiliadis said. “I think there are discussions happening in board rooms and union halls all over the state.”

Leaders from the AFL-CIO, the state’s largest union; the Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers; and gaming and other industries have been meeting to discuss what would work, according to sources. Discussions have focused on a “margins tax” on businesses — a tax on adjusted gross business revenue — similar to what was proposed in 2011 by Democrats to replace the tax based on payroll.

It is unclear how much money the coalition would hope to raise through new taxes, or what type of ballot measure would be used. Experts say there are a number of paths to raise taxes, none of which would spare lawmakers in 2013 from making some kind of decision.

• Change the constitution: It would take two consecutive votes of the people, in 2012 and 2014. It would not be implemented until 2015.

• A statutory initiative: This would require supporters to collect signatures for a proposed law. If successful, the 2013 Legislature would have 40 days to pass the bill, or decide on an alternative. If they didn’t, it would go to a vote in 2014.

• An advisory question, which would not be binding.

That means the next time lawmakers meet to pass a budget, they will once again face the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue because of taxes that will expire if they don’t take action, likely resulting in a giant deficit.

Democrats were unable to do more than extend existing taxes for another two years. When that became clear, Danny Thompson, head of the AFL-CIO, said during the session that he felt a tax written into the constitution would be necessary. He declined to comment for this story, saying the timing wasn’t right.

Officials close to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and Nevada Retail Association, a more conservative business lobby, said they had not been approached about a potential ballot measure, even though they expected one to come.

A possible fracture in the business community might be the biggest hurdle.

One lobbyist associated with business said if business leaders can’t agree on the coalition’s tax initiative, there could be competing measures to try to defeat it.

“The best way to kill that would be an initiative specifically targeting gaming and mining,” the lobbyist noted, speaking frankly in exchange for anonymity.

Attacking the state’s two largest and best-funded industries? That would be a fight reminiscent of the 2003 tax battle, but this time fought at the ballot box.

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  1. I heard a lot of first hand accounts right after the legislative session closed that all of these industry representatives and union representatives were in lengthy discussions to try to build a broad based tax initiative. I just wasn't ever sure anything would actually come out the other side. If they really can come to a deal that helps stabilize Nevada's tax revenues it would provide a long term tangible stability for Nevada that our state has never had. It's the kind of thing that makes people local legends.

  2. Just put it on the ballot. Pay a host of people to collect signatures, just like the stadium. No back room deal will ever come to fruition...there are too many unreported cloth bags filled with jewels that pass through the hands of diplomats. The mines have all the jewels they need as talking points.

  3. I applaud the business community coming forth on this. It's a great first step. Hope it goes somewhere to fix an incredible wrong.

    I don't know a whole hell of a lot about Government and how it all works, but the business community don't get the right to decide how much they get taxed. The people do. The people elected our politicians into power to do what we think is best. They are our representatives. That's how it works. Or how it's supposed to work.

    For a politician to sit back and let business take the initiative decide how much they fork over is bad news. It also shows how useless our elected politicians are in Nevada that they just go ahead and let this happen. It shows laziness. It shows they just sit on their butts and point fingers, but only want it to keep going along like it is.

    I hope this gains some momentum to help give a quick, hard and swift kick in Governor Dracula's butt to get things going.

    But I doubt it. Mining taxes? Not gonna happen. Sandoval still works for Vargas Jones; a lawyer firm that lobbies for at least one large mining company here in Nevada.

    Put it on the ballot about taxes. The people run this State. Not special interests and their lackeys they help put into power to slam home their way.

    Again, the people run this State. Not businesses. They benefit due to democracy. Not the other way around.

    Tax mining. Fix it. They have gotten away with murder for at least a century.

    Increase the tax on gaming. It's long overdue. Sure, they pay already. But why is it that prices increase on everything...everything except what they pay? Shared sacrifice, baby.

    Don't increase sales taxes. Don't slap the regular folk of Nevada. It's been raised too much already. People who are only guilty of trying to survive.

    Common sense stuff like this will fix Nevada.

    Until then, expect more people to leave Nevada for better places. Expect the unemployment rate to rise. Expect no new construction for at least a decade. Expect more and more teachers being laid off, as well as other public employees, being used as the scapegoats.

  4. Here's all you need to know: gaming and mining lobbyists pleaded with the legislature to continue the 2009 taxes, and Republicans refused, including Sandoval. At the end, they went along because of the Nevada Supreme Court decision. The better question to ask is why these people ever support Republicans. They perceive the GOP as the anti-tax, anti-regulation party, but they are now so insane that they can't even support taxes and regulation that their supporters make clear they want.

  5. The concept makes some sense. This will not be easy, but if enough groups are fed up than it may have a chance.

    Timing is everything. The timing could be right for this.