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July 31, 2014

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It may be stating the obvious: Voters in Nevada don’t like taxes

If history at the ballot box is any gauge, Nevadans do not like taxes.

In the last election alone, voters in five counties rejected six proposed tax increases for projects ranging from a library and public plaza in Carson City to a capital construction program for Clark County schools.

The last time Nevada voters in the state’s two largest counties approved a tax question, they gave an advisory nod to the Legislature for room tax increase—a levy that weighs most heavily on the state’s visitors rather than its residents.

Indeed, voters in Clark County have voted in favor of a broad tax increase since 2004, when they favored a half-a-percent sales tax hike to hire more police officers. That tax battle continues to play out today at the Clark County Commission, which is embroiled in a fight over implementing another increment of that increase.

The voting history in Nevada proves that advocates for a 2014 ballot question proposing a 2 percent business revenue tax have their work cut out for them.

For them, the picture isn’t pretty. Here’s a look back at a decade’s worth of tax questions in Nevada.

• Carson City 2012: Despite a community-wide campaign blitz advocating a quarter-cent sales tax increase to build a new library and public plaza near downtown, voters said no. The ballot question was rejected 68 percent to 32 percent.

• Clark County 2012: Voters rejected two tax increases last year. The School District and its community partners made a concerted effort to make the case that the district was in dire need of funds for construction and maintenance. Voters didn’t buy it, rejecting the property tax increase by a 30-point margin.

In Henderson, voters also rejected a property tax increase for its library system.

• Lyon County 2012: It’s not just schools that Nevada voters are hesitant to raise taxes for. In Lyon County, voters rejected a property tax increase for emergency medical services by a 20-point margin.

• Mineral County 2012: Voters in this small rural county actually approved a tax ballot question. But it wasn’t exactly a tax increase. Voters backed the extension of a property tax to continue funding the county’s senior citizen center, approving it 69 percent to 31 percent.

• Nye County 2012: What about roads? Building and maintaining highways not only puts people to work, but it improves transportation. Still, voters in Nye County rejected a fuel tax increase for road projects by an overwhelming 77 percent of the vote.

• Washoe County 2012: How about “essential services?” Washoe County failed to make the case that voters should approve a vehicle registration fee increase to pay for senior services, public safety and infrastructure projects. The vote was 60-40.

• Churchill and Washoe counties 2010: Voters in two northern counties said no to taxes. In Churchill County, voters rejected a property tax for its senior center. In Sparks, voters narrowly said no to an advisory question on raising the sales tax for police.

• Washoe County 2008: This was a bad year for tax increase proponents in Washoe County. Voters turned down three tax proposals, refusing to raise revenue for school construction, public transit and fire fighting equipment.

Voters, however, did give their approval for a tax hike they largely wouldn’t have to pay, saying yes to an advisory question on a room tax hike for education.

• Clark County 2008: Voters in the state’s most populous county said yes to an advisory question on a room tax hike that was intended to go to increase teacher salaries and improve school performance. On the basis of that vote in Clark and Washoe counties, the Legislature in 2009 increased that tax. But instead of using it to increase education funding, state lawmakers have used the revenue to plug its budget shortfalls in the general fund.

• Washoe County 2006: Voters narrowly rejected two tax proposals — one to fund public safety and another for parks and recreation.

• Clark County 2004: It’s been nearly a decade since voters in Clark County said yes to a tax increase that falls on both residents and tourists. A question directing the county commission to ask the Legislature for authority to raise the sales tax to hire more police officers passed with 52 percent of the vote. Implementing that tax increase has become a battle that has yet to be resolved.

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