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December 21, 2014

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Clark County could send Legislature scrambling to fill budget hole

Marilyn Kirkpatrick

Marilyn Kirkpatrick

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Let’s say Nevada’s attorney general agrees with Clark County and tells state lawmakers that they were wrong and must refund the $102.5 million they took from the county over the past two years.

What then?

Clark County’s gain would be some other governmental entity’s loss. But whose?

It’s the type of question that can give politicians hives because no matter the answer, it is likely to force the governor and lawmakers back to the table to either raise taxes to make up the loss — or push the loss onto agencies that are already hurting.

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, didn’t mention taxes when asked what might happen. She did, however, mention “education and health care” as potential victims of more budget cuts.

“We’d have to give services to some counties or take it from education and health care,” said Kirkpatrick, who is considered a candidate for Assembly speaker when the Legislature meets in 2013.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who pushed for the county to request the refund, was unmoved by Kirkpatrick’s complaint. The county would settle for the $102.5 million refund to be spread out over, say, 10 years, he said.

“They’ve already taken from education and health care, the hurt has already been put on our citizens for the last two years by taking a disproportionate share of tax dollars from Clark and Washoe counties, and we need to fix that,” he said. “We can’t just ignore problems and hope they go away.”

But in the budget passed by the Legislature in June, the state reduced per-pupil funding and scaled back its social safety net, which has been strained by increased demand during the recession.

How would schools deal with the loss? A lobbyist for the Clark County School District could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The governor’s office referred questions to the attorney general, because it has not seen the letter and it represents possible pending litigation.

Although the county has long lamented the state swooping in to loot its coffers, it wasn’t until the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional in May that local governments had any hope of fighting it.

Facing more than a billion-dollar deficit in 2009, lawmakers took measures that deprived Clark County of $180 million in tax revenues from 2009 to 2011. It did the same in Washoe County, which lost about $50 million.

But it left other counties and, for the most part, local municipalities untouched. County officials pleaded with lawmakers to be fair: If they were going to take, take from every county, not just the two biggest.

Only after the state tried to take $62 million banked by the Clean Water Coalition did questions arise. For years, the coalition had been collecting taxes on sewer bills in Southern Nevada to fund an $860 million pipeline to return treated wastewater to Lake Mead. Filtering technology improved, however, and wastewater experts said the pipeline wasn’t needed. As the coalition began a long dismantling process, the state saw the $62 million it had in the bank and took it.

The coalition sued, arguing the state had no right to take money collected from ratepayers for a specific purpose. The Supreme Court sided with the coalition because the money grab violated a constitutional tenet that “all laws should be general and operate uniformly throughout the state.”

The ruling prompted wholesale changes in a state biennium budget proposal. Instead of taking money again from Clark and Washoe counties, the governor reauthorized $626 million in taxes that would have expired Thursday.

A few weeks later, Clark County said “you’re not done yet,” and sent the letter requesting a refund.

Despite the uncertain effect of a refund on the state budget, Sisolak is unapologetic about trying to get the money back.

“I think the Legislature needs to fix its funding problem,” he said. “They need to determine how they’re going to fund education. That’s a state function, not a county function. They’re going to say we hurt education? Then how do they feel when we have to deprive seniors of home health care because we don’t have the money they took? Or food banks that need money?”

If the attorney general returns with an opinion that lawmakers were wrong and should refund the money, Kirkpatrick said the governor may have to call a special session of the Legislature to reconfigure the budget. That will cost the state even more.

“That’s $150,000 a day,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s additional cuts.”

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  1. How is "Kicking the political can down the road," working, LAWMAKERS?

    All the stalling with 2-party (Good ol' Boy) system bickering left the LAWMAKERS with no time to meaningfully address the Nevada State Constitution laws towards TAX RESTRUCTURING AND REFORM! Nevada has been experiencing economic decline and the way to keep the state flush and functional is by having the TAX REVENUE to do so. Nevada LAWMAKERS failed to effectively deal with state revenue issues and now face a Special Session at taxpayer expense!

    Nevada's TAX revenue laws have virtually gone nearly 100+ years UNCHANGED thanks to the LAWMAKERS kicking the political can down the road, hoping that it would not fall upon them to address during their term of service. Is that the kind of REPRESENTATION that VOTERS expect of elected LAWMAKERS?

    Maybe.

    Remember, in the past 25 years, Nevada has grown from Ghost towns to populations in the millions. Part of those millions are ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS who have a negative impact on the state infrastructure, and the other part are people from everywhere, many who are ILLITERATE and fell asleep in their high school government classes, or are apathetic voters. About 5% are political interests and contributors to LAWMAKERS and a handful of educated citizens. There's your demographics.

    During the last 20 years, Clark County experienced UNSUSTAINABLE and uncontrolled immigration and growth, hit and miss regulation, and expansive corruption in both public and private business sectors. OUCH!

    Nevada LAWMAKERS & GOVERNOR(S) have typically enjoyed careers that goes unresisted by voters or citizens, and they simply "kick the political can down the political road for the next Legislative Session," without addressing any REAL TAX STRUCTURE REFORMS FOR MINING, Gaming/Resorts, and Big Box Stores. Why upset those who contribute directly or indirectly to campaign contributions, right? That is political career suicide.

    During the FINAL HOUR of the Nevada 76th State Legislative Session, LAWMAKERS ushered bills through that there was no public scrutiny nor LAWMAKER discussion. At the end,LAWMAKERS celebrated with expensive bottles of champagne!

    So how is "Kicking the political can down the road," working? Yeah, thought so.

  2. "That's $150,000 a day," Kirkpatrick said. "That's additional cuts."

    Why is that automatically additional cuts Ms. Kirkpatrick? Did you sign one of those no tax pledges?

  3. Even if there were a tax increase how much of the money would go elsewhere. The dems would purposfuly underfund education and spend the money somewhere else and u have the exact same fight next budget time.

    The government in this country has proven, thats right proven they can't handle the money they already have. WHY GIVE THEM MORE! They will just piss it away.

  4. Commonsense?: Wait, they purposefully underfund education and spend elsewhere? Okay then, what in the Nevada budget should they cut, to spend more on education? What is "wasteful" in the Nevada budget?

  5. Oh yes Bob, because the uber rich need that money much more. Let's not characterize their exploitation as greed, or their resistance to any kind of tax reform since 1865 as greed. The rich earned their money with all their hard work. Ha ha. You are sympathetic to the "plite" of the wealthy, but the poor and shrinking middle class are just a waste of oxygen because we're struggling to pay our bills? You, sir, are a waste of oxygen, and clearly there is none going to your brain.

  6. Citizens are victim to the bad thinking that goes on in legislative sessions, commission, and board meetings.

    Part of the "bad thinking" is the old, "Kick the political can down the road" by our elected representatives, so that THEY avoid the negative press on what has to be done, and so they continue their political careers.

    An example of "bad thinking" comes to mind when the Stimulus Money came to the school district and they hired some 800 teachers during dire economic times, knowing damn well that if the Stimulus Money or some miracle funding doesn't come their way, these 800 are subject to being LAID OFF. This is NOT a "union" issue, it is another "bad thinking" issue from on top. They lead, we follow. Not too great, and we expect much better.

    And then there is the Nevada State LAWMAKERS, who have a generational and continual mindset. We expect much better, and should there be a Special Session, they best do much better.