Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Editor’s note: Every summer, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers for several weeks. Today’s guest is Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak.
The bankruptcy of Detroit and financial troubles of other large cities have prompted many of my constituents to ask whether we could face similar problems in Southern Nevada.
Certainly, Clark County has faced many challenges in recent years. The economic meltdown hit Nevada hard, and local governments bore the brunt of that pain. A community’s need for basic services doesn’t go away just because the money to fund those essential services dries up; in many cases, demand for services increased for those families most affected by the downturn.
The good news for our community is your county government is strong. Through smart fiscal management and incredible cooperation from our employees in the form of pay cuts, and hiring and wage freezes, we have weathered these difficult economic times.
Nevada is a bit different from many other states because our government structure does not permit home rule by local governments. This means Clark County must make do with what the state Legislature allocates for us or authorizes us to enact. That is why the commission is so involved in the legislative process — to help ensure our constituents get their fair share of the taxes they pay into the system.
The Legislature and governor forwarded us two tax proposals this year. The first would increase the “More Cops” sales tax initiative, first approved by voters in 2006. It would add 1/8 of a cent to Clark County’s sales tax rate (another 1/8 of a cent was approved in 2008) to bring our sales tax to 8.35 from the current rate of 8.1 percent.
The second seeks to “index” fuel taxes in Clark County to pay for road and infrastructure improvements. Gasoline and diesel taxes (as well as alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas and biodiesel) would be raised by up to 10 cents over three years to fund projects throughout Southern Nevada. In 2016, voters would have the opportunity to decide whether to retain the indexing rate.
In the meantime, commissioners must carefully consider the effect raising taxes would have on the valley’s fragile economic recovery. Are these the best ways to put more officers on our streets and solve our transportation and infrastructure needs? We must look at the incredible pressures local residents already face, such as ever-increasing energy and grocery prices. Seniors on fixed incomes are struggling to pay for prescription drugs and basic necessities. We must determine whether we can we reduce the burden on those who can least afford it, and make sure the tax burden placed on others is fair.
In addition, we must continue to work with employee groups to get the most efficient and fair contracts we can. County employees, including police and firefighters, do an amazing job. However, to avoid the problems communities such as Detroit encountered, we must make employee agreements fair and equitable.
Above all, we need to have input from the residents of Clark County. This community has some of the brightest minds in the United States. Together we have built Southern Nevada into a world-renowned tourist destination, and Clark County is committed to making local government work for our citizens as effectively and efficiently as possible. While we are still feeling the effects of the downturn, the signs of economic revival are all around us. Several projects are under construction on the Las Vegas Strip. SLS Las Vegas is spending nearly $300 million to redevelop the old Sahara hotel; Caesars Entertainment’s Project Linq will be an entertainment and shopping development in excess of 350,000 square feet; and MGM Resorts recently announced it will spend $350 million to build an arena complex between New York-New York and the Monte Carlo. In addition, Resorts World is planning a Chinese-themed hotel and casino on the site of Boyd’s long-shuttered Echelon project.
These projects alone will add millions of dollars to our tax base and create thousands of new jobs. This is an exciting time, but we are looking at it with guarded optimism as these last few years have taught us that Nevada is especially vulnerable to the economic fortunes of the rest of the country. While gaming and tourism will always be the cornerstone of our economy, we must continue to diversify and look for new industries such as alternative energy, medical tourism and technology-based businesses. That’s the direction we must pursue to ensure our future economic vitality.
Steve Sisolak is a Clark County commissioner.