Posts Tagged ‘Danny Thompson’

Proposal Seeking A Texas-Style Business Margins Tax To Support Public Education To Be Filed Wednesday

By Sean Whaley | 1:19 pm June 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A proposal seeking to implement a Texas-style business margins tax in Nevada to support public education will be filed with the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday.

Supported by the state teachers union and the AFL-CIO, if the groups can collect 72,352 signatures by November 13, the issue of taxes will be dumped squarely in the laps of state lawmakers in 2013.

Graphic from Free Software Foundation via Wikimedia Commons.

News that the groups were finally ready to file the initiative petition was first tweeted by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

“Basically it is a 2 percent tax on a business entity’s taxable margin for that year,” said Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association.

The threshold for paying the tax is a business making more than $1 million in gross revenue. This threshold is expected to protect small businesses from having to pay the tax, she said.

The proposed tax is expected to bring in about $800 million a year, Warne said.

If enough signatures are collected from Nevada registered voters by the deadline, the 2013 Legislature would have 40 days to approve the proposal or it would go to the voters in 2014. Lawmakers could also offer a competing tax proposal to appear on the ballot, but a two-thirds vote would be required to move any competing tax measure forward in the Legislature.

Warne said she does not foresee any difficulty in gathering the necessary signatures.

“We’re confident that we will not only collect the necessary signatures, which is 73,000, but we will collect significantly more than that and have those ready to be filed with the state by the beginning of November,” she said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval today reiterated his opposition to such a tax proposal. Sandoval earlier this year said he will extend a collection of taxes set to expire on June 30, 2013, into the new budget to ensure there are no further cuts to education.

Supporters of the margins tax say that move doesn’t go far enough, however.

“That’s fine; it’s not adequate though for funding schools and other essential services in the state,” Warne said. “You’ve seen the tremendous battles that have gone on in school districts with regards to funding and how to make ends meet. We just can’t continue to cut funds to education and expect the quality to improve.”

The proposal will provide consistent and predictable funds for education, eliminating the need for layoffs or program cuts, she said.

The association would also work to eliminating the current payroll-based business tax, called the Modified Business Tax, Warne said. But there would need to be a transition period so as not to create a hole in the budget, she said.

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said in a statement that a margins tax would be a “disaster” for Nevadans.

“Despite misleading rhetoric from the Left disparaging ‘corporate greed,’ all taxes are ultimately paid by individuals and families,” he said. “A business margin tax will only further squeeze struggling private firms, dampening their ability to hire and suppressing growth in wages. The pain will be felt by families across Nevada.”

Lawrence said economists from across the political spectrum consider a margins tax to be one of the most economically destructive tax instruments available.

“With Nevada’s adult unemployment at 12 percent and youth unemployment rate at 28.8 percent, a margins tax is a recipe for prolonged economic depression in the Silver State,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Lynn Warne says there will be no difficulty in collecting the needed signatures:

060512Warne111 :16 beginning of November.”

Warne says Gov. Sandoval’s plan to extend a package of sunsetting taxes into the next budget is inadequate:

060512Warne22 :20 quality to improve.”

Carson City Judge Rejects Gaming Tax Petition, Supporters Say They Will File New Version

By Sean Whaley | 4:06 pm April 11th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A Carson City District judge today rejected an initiative petition proposing to create a new and higher rate of taxation for Nevada’s largest casinos, finding that the 200 word description of effect of the measure was misleading.

In rejecting the petition, Judge James Todd Russell said he did not believe he had the authority to rewrite the description himself.

Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller, who attended the hearing on his proposed gaming tax hike, said he will file a new proposal with the Secretary of State’s office reflecting Russell’s concerns and begin the signature gathering effort all over again.

The proposed petition was challenged by the Nevada Resort Association, which cited several concerns with the measure, including the use of the term “unrestricted” instead of  “nonrestricted” to identify the affected gaming properties, and the use of the term “gross revenue” instead of “gross gaming revenue.”

Miller, through a group called Nevadans for a Fair 9% Gambling Revenue Tax (NF9GRT), filed the initiative petition in February. It would set a new tax rate of 9 percent on net casino gambling revenue above $250,000 per calendar month.

Under current law, net casino gambling revenue in excess of $134,000 per calendar month is taxed at a 6.75 percent rate.

Las Vegas attorney Maggie McLetchie, representing Miller’s group, argued that Russell could rewrite the description of effect for the proposed petition, thus allowing the signature gathering process to begin again without the potential for a new legal challenge.

Attorney Maggie McLetchie and Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller talk with the press after a court ruling against their gaming tax petition. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

But Carson City attorney Matt Griffin, representing the resort association, said Russell did not have the authority to rewrite the proposal, which would in effect take away the association’s due process rights.

The description is flawed and the only solution is to reject the petition and require a new one to be filed, he said.

After the hearing, McLetchie said the NRA is using the legal process to stall the petition effort.

“They are obviously trying to exploit a process that is in place to ensure that voters are informed about the effects of a law to try to drag this out for as long as possible,” she said. “And I think it is unfortunate and I think it is antithetical to the very nature of the initiative process.”

McLetchie said judges have in the past rewritten descriptions of effect on other initiative petitions.

“The interest of the NRA is in trying to delay this process for as long as possible,” she said. “Our interest is trying to get this into the hands of the voters.”

The group has until Nov. 13 to collect 72,352 valid signatures from Nevada voters to send the proposal to the Nevada Legislature in 2013. If the Legislature does not enact the proposal within 40 days, it would go to voters in 2014 and take effect in 2015 if approved. The Legislature could also opt to put a competing proposal on the ballot for voters to consider.

The Legislature would have to get a two-thirds vote to approve the tax hike on casinos instead of sending it to the voters. But Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said a competing tax proposal dealing with the same subject could be placed on the 2014 ballot by a simple majority vote of the Legislature because voters would have the final say.

If both measures received more than 50 percent of the vote, the one receiving the largest number of votes would take effect.

Miller said he is pursing the gaming tax option in the face of a possible business profits tax appearing on the ballot in 2014 as well. The gaming tax, and another petition that could lead to an increase in the mining tax, would be on the ballot as alternatives to a business tax, he said.

Miller said the proposed business profits tax is a bad idea.

State AFL-CIO leader Danny Thompson said earlier this month his labor group is moving forward with a broad-based business profits tax ballot measure to raise money for education. It would assess a 2 percent tax on net profits in excess of $500,000.

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Audio clips:

Las Vegas attorney Maggie McLetchie says the NRA is trying to stall the petition:

041112McLetchie1 :09 long as possible.”

McLetchie says the group just wants to get the proposal to the voters:

041112McLetchie2 :07 of the voters.”

 

 

Teachers Union President “Excited” That Business Profits Tax Ballot Proposal Moving Forward

By Sean Whaley | 1:56 pm April 9th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The president of the powerful state teachers union said today she is “excited” that another labor organization, the AFL-CIO, plans to pursue a business profits tax initiative petition.

“It will be a big deal,” said Lynn Warne, head of the Nevada State Education Association. “We’re excited that Danny (Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO) has decided to move forward with this. Anything we can do about funding our schools adequately in this state is great.”

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

Warne did not say in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television program that the teachers’ union will be throwing its weight behind the petition drive, however.

Thompson said last week his group will push forward to collect the 72,352 signatures by  November 13 to take the tax proposal to the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers will have 40 days to approve the proposal or it will go to the voters in 2014. Lawmakers could also offer a competing tax proposal to appear on the ballot, but a two-thirds vote would be required to move any tax measure forward in the Legislature.

Thompson said the proposed tax, which would be assessed on net business profits in excess of $500,000 at a rate of 2 percent, has been projected by some analysts to bring in about $1 billion a year to the state general fund. The money would go to fund public and higher education. The initiative petition has not yet been filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun last week, Warne said the teachers union has not signed off on Thompson’s proposed tax petition because of concerns regarding the language. Warne said she supports in concept the effort by to raise money for schools.

The teachers union had indicated in January that it would sign on to the tax proposal.

In the NewsMakers interview, Warne said 2014 could be a major election year in Nevada with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval up for re-election and a business profits tax measure on the ballot as well.

Sandoval has moved “a bit in the direction of needing to keep our education budgets whole,” she said. But Sandoval’s plan to continue a package of taxes set to sunset on June 30, 2013 into the next budget to avoid further cuts to education is inadequate, Warne said.

“We’re still at funding levels that are lower than the 2003 funding for the education budget, so no, it’s not enough and I think the governor would acknowledge that as well,” she said. “But it’s going to help.”

Warne said the two competing tax measures being pushed by Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller, one seeking to give the Legislature the authority to raise the mining tax and a second that would increase the gaming tax on the state’s largest casinos, are being pursued to confuse voters about the business tax proposal.

“Mining and gaming are the low hanging fruit in this state in terms of targets for tax increases,” she said. “And so Monte has picked those. There are a lot of questions as to his sincerity as to whether or not he would want to see those move forward. He has even made comments that should gaming try and strangle Danny’s effort then he will back off his gaming initiatives.”

Warne said the association has never had any discussions with Miller regarding his two petitions.

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Audio clips:

NSEA President Lynn Warne says the association is excited the AFL-CIO is moving forward with a business profits tax:

040912Warne1 :13 adequately is great.”

Warne says Sandoval’s plan to continue the sunsetting taxes isn’t enough but it will help:

040912Warne2 :18 going to help.”

Warne says there are questions as to whether Monte Miller is sincere about his tax petitions:

040912Warne3 :18 those move forward.”

State Labor Group Moving Forward With Business Profits Tax Ballot Measure

By Sean Whaley | 2:46 pm April 3rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – State AFL-CIO leader Danny Thompson said today his labor group is moving forward with a broad-based business profits tax ballot measure to raise money for education.

Thompson, interviewed on the Nevada NewsMakers television program, said the proposal will go forward as a petition to amend state law, which would first be considered by the Legislature in 2013. If the Legislature did not approve the measure within 40 days, it would go to the voters in 2014.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO.

Thompson said the tax, which would be assessed on net business profits in excess of $500,000 at a rate of 2 percent, has been projected by some analysts to bring in about $1 billion a year to the state general fund. The money would go to fund public and higher education.

Supporters of the proposal would have until November 13 to gather 72,352 signatures from registered voters, which Thompson said is more than enough time to ensure they would be successful. The measure has not yet been filed with the Secretary of State’s office because a final legal review is still under way, he said.

In a subsequent telephone interview, Thompson said there is no question that the proposal will be challenged in court so it is important to make sure it can withstand such a review.

“We qualified the minimum wage initiative in a period of a couple of months,” Thompson said. “And so we just want to make sure everything is correct. Because you still have to get over a court challenge, which inevitably we know will be coming.”

Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, said too many of Nevada’s students are failing in large part because of inadequate funding. A better educated workforce is needed to diversify the state’s economy as well, he said.

In anticipation of such a tax proposal, Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller has filed two ballot measures, one seeking to give the Legislature the authority to raise the mining tax, and a second that would increase the gaming tax on the state’s largest casinos.

He has called Thompson’s proposal, based on a Texas margin tax, “a destructive, terribly complex tax.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he opposes the various ballot measures, arguing tax discussions belong at the Legislature. Partly in response to the different proposed ballot measures, Sandoval last month said he would extend a collection of taxes set to expire on June 30, 2013, into the next two-year budget to avoid any further cuts to public education.

Thompson said he has had no discussions with Miller about his business profits tax proposal, adding that Nevada has relied for far too long on gaming and mining to fund the state budget and public education.

Nevada will be the last state to recover from the recession because the state depends on discretionary income spent on the state’s gaming industry, Thompson said.

“I don’t know what it’s going to look like if we continue down the road we are going,” he said.

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Audio clips:

Danny Thompson says qualifying the ballot measure won’t be difficult:

040312Thompson1 :15 will be coming.”

Thompson says Nevada now taxes only gaming and mining:

040312Thompson2 :08 don’t pay taxes.”

Thompson says Nevada’s will recover last because of its tax structure:

040312Thompson3 :17 who recover last.”

Thompson says the tax structure needs to change:

040312Thompson4 :14 where we’re at.”

 

 

Nevada Political Consultant Warns Against Setting Tax Policy At The Ballot Box

By Sean Whaley | 3:46 pm February 27th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Long-time political consultant and former state lawmaker Pete Ernaut said today that efforts to use the ballot box to set tax policy could handcuff the ability of the governor and Legislature to make critical decisions on the future of the state.

“It should be warning to everybody because this is something that could very rapidly turn into the next iteration of the California ballot, where we have 10, 12, 13 ballot measures on a number of issues and you wake up one day and really you’ve taken the power away from the Legislature or the governor to make any decisions,” he said.

Political consultant Pete Ernaut.

“And that’s really what they’re struggling with in California more than anything else is you have this entire apparatus in the California state Legislature that essentially has the ability to make decisions on about 5 percent or 6 percent of the entire California budget,” Ernaut said in an interview on the Nevada NewsMakers television show. “If we’re not careful, that’s the way that it will go.”

Ernaut’s comments were in response to a question about the possibility of several tax proposals qualifying for the state ballot in the next few election cycles. Ernaut is president of government and public affairs with R&R Partners.

Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller is pursing two initiative petitions, one to raise the gaming tax rate on the state’s largest casinos, and another to amend the state constitution to permit the tax rate on the mining industry to be increased.

Miller said he is pursing the tax proposals to ensure there are some options on the table for policy makers if state labor and education leaders move forward with a Texas-style margin tax on business to increase funding for education. No such petition has been filed yet with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office.

Ernaut acknowledged that there is an undercurrent of frustration regarding Nevada’s current tax policy, with gaming and mining questioning the fairness and balance of the system, and some in the business community in turn concerned they are being pressured by the gaming and mining industries.

Nevada’s improving economy could help defuse the intensity of the tax debate and allow for a more measured, methodical and thoughtful discussion of what the state’s tax structure should look like down the road, “rather than with a pistol to somebody’s forehead, which is what it seems like it’s been,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval also spoke out recently in opposition to the tax-related ballot measures, saying those discussions belong in the Legislature.

“I believe initiative petitions are a poor way to set tax policy,” Sandoval said.

But Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, who first mentioned the possibility of a business tax ballot proposal in November 2011, said at the time it is the Legislature’s inability to make tax decisions that has generated the interest in going directly to the voters instead.

Nevada has a two-thirds vote requirement in the Legislature to increase taxes or fees.

“We are looking seriously at this process because the legislative process is an impossible one,” he said. “With the two-thirds requirement in the constitution, what in effect that does – it has the minority control the majority wishes. You cannot solve the problem at the Legislature alone without some help from the people.”

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Audio clips:

Long-time political consultant Pete Ernaut warns against setting tax policy at the ballot box:

022712Ernaut1 :23 make any decisions.”

Ernaut says the California Legislature is handcuffed because of the numerous ballot measures approved by voters:

022712Ernaut2 :15 it will go.”

Ernaut says an improving Nevada economy could help lower the intensity level of the tax policy debate:

022712Ernaut3 :19 like it’s been.”

 

Sandoval Opposes Tax Petitions, Says Revenue Discussions Belong At Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 3:12 pm February 10th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said today he opposes the initiative petitions filed by Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller to raise gaming and mining tax rates.

“I believe initiative petitions are a poor way to set tax policy,” Sandoval said when asked about the measures that could eventually go before Nevada voters. “I’ve advised Mr. Miller, who is a friend, that I do, respectfully, oppose the petitions.

“For an issue of that import I think it is critical that it would be debated at the legislative level and not be of the initiative petition process,” he said.

Graphic from Free Software Foundation via Wikimedia Commons.

Sandoval, who has opposed tax increases generally because of a desire to keep Nevada a friendly state for business creation and job development, said he would not object to a tax policy discussion at the 2013 legislative session, which is now less than a year away.

Using the initiative process, which requires voter approval, takes decisions about tax policy out of the hands of the governor and Legislature.

Miller said he has filed the two initiative petitions to ensure there are alternatives to a Texas-style margin tax that is expected to be filed by labor and education groups to raise additional money for public education.

The margin tax proposal is expected to be headed up by Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, but no such measure has been filed yet with the Secretary of State’s Office.

“We are looking seriously at this process because the legislative process is an impossible one,” Thompson said in an interview in November 2011. “With the two-thirds requirement in the constitution, what in effect that does – it has the minority control the majority wishes. You cannot solve the problem at the Legislature alone without some help from the people.”

Nevada has a two-thirds vote requirement in the Legislature to raise taxes or fees.

Miller last week filed a petition to amend the state constitution to allow the cap on mining taxes to be increased from 5 percent to 9 percent. If approved by voters, this proposal would actually leave the decision on whether to raise the tax rate in the hands of the governor and Legislature.

On Tuesday Miller filed his petition to change state law to raise the tax rate on the state’s biggest casinos from 6.75 percent to 9 percent. If approved by voters, the increase would take effect in 2015 and could not be changed by the Legislature for at least three years. The practical effect of this constitutional provision would be that the Legislature could not change the tax rate for at least two sessions of the Legislature.

Casinos with revenues of more than $250,000 a month would be subject to the higher tax rate under Miller’s proposal.

It is not easy to qualify a measure for the ballot in Nevada.

For a constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by voters twice before it could take effect, supporters would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19. It would appear on the November 2012 ballot.

For a change to state law, supporters would need to gather the same number of signatures by Nov. 13 to send the proposal to the Nevada Legislature in 2013. If the Legislature did not enact the proposal, it would go to voters in 2014 and take effect in 2015 if approved. The Legislature could also opt to put a competing proposal on the ballot for voters to consider.

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Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he opposes using the initiative petition process to address tax policy:

021012Sandoval1 :11 oppose the petitions.”

Sandoval says tax policy should be debated at the Legislature:

021012Sandoval2 :09 initiative petition process.”

 

Gaming Tax Hike Sought As Alternative To Possible Margin Tax Ballot Measure

By Sean Whaley | 1:25 pm February 8th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller said today he is seeking a hike in the gaming tax for the state’s largest casinos to offer the Legislature and voters one more revenue option in the face of a possible Texas-style margin tax that could appear on the ballot.

Even at the proposed 9 percent rate on net casino gambling revenue above $250,000 per calendar month, Nevada would have the lowest effective tax rate in the world, he said in a telephone interview today.

Slot machine / Photo by Jeff Kubina @ Wikimedia Commons

Under current law, net casino gambling revenue in excess of $134,000 per calendar month is taxed at a 6.75 percent rate.

Miller, through a group called Nevadans for a Fair 9% Gambling Revenue Tax (NF9GRT) on Tuesday filed a statutory initiative petition with the Nevada Secretary of State that would create the new, higher rate.

The proposal, along with another to provide for a possible increase in the mining tax filed last week, are meant to providing voters and policy-makers with options in light of an anticipated ballot proposal from Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, to create a 2 percent margin tax based on the Texas model to provide increased funding for public education. Thompson could not be reached for comment on the status of his expected tax proposal.

Thompson and the other groups expected to support the margin tax ballot measure have not yet filed an initiative petition with the Secretary of State’s office, but Miller said there is plenty of time to do so.

If you look at Texas, and what they’re going through with the Texas margins tax, which is the template for what Mr. Thompson is doing, it’s a destructive, terribly complex tax,” he said. “And you couldn’t have a worse income tax in your state. And so we think the people of Nevada need an alternative.

Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller.

“This would be the first income tax in the state of  Nevada,” Miller said. “We’ve got to give people a choice.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, wrote an article this week calling the tax unfair to small business and an “abject failure,” in Texas.

Miller said a 9 percent rate is a fair tax rate for the biggest casino operations. The number that surprised him comes from Indiana, where that state collected nearly $875 million in taxes from 11 casinos in 2010. Nevada collected $835 million in 2010, he said.

Indiana’s tax rates go from 15 percent to 40 percent.

“We’re not asking for 15 percent, we’re saying 9 percent, (it) still would be the lowest in the world, the lowest effective tax rate in the world,” he said.

“This initiative represents a 33 percent tax increase on the gaming industry, which would be reckless and irresponsible,” Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said in an email to the Associated Press. “We are currently reviewing the language. If this effort is indeed legitimate, we will oppose it vigorously.”

Miller said the proposal is not a tax on all casino revenue.

“If our initiative becomes law, it will not increase taxes on room rates, shows, shopping or restaurants in casinos,” he said. “Nor would it increase taxes on small casinos, taverns or convenience stores.

“Nevada’s individuals and small businesses are overtaxed,” Miller said. “By fairly taxing the billions of dollars that big casinos win from high-rolling gamblers, we can lower taxes and fees on individuals and small businesses who are struggling during these tough economic times.”

The group will have to collect 72,352 valid signatures from Nevada voters by Nov. 13 to send the proposal to the Nevada Legislature in 2013. If the Legislature did not enact the proposal, it would go to voters in 2014 and take effect in 2015 if approved. The Legislature could also opt to put a competing proposal on the ballot for voters to consider.

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Audio clips:

Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller says a Texas-style margins tax would be destructive in Nevada:

020812Miller1 :26 in your state.”

Miller says even at 9 percent, the top gaming tax rate would be the lowest in the world:

020812Miller2 :10 in the world.”

Nevada Labor Union Seriously Considering Ballot Initiative To Put Tax Increase For Education To Voters

By Sean Whaley | 4:19 pm November 16th, 2011

(Updated to reflect the different requirements to place a measure on the Nevada ballot.)

 

CARSON CITY – A Nevada labor union leader said today his organization is “looking seriously” at launching a ballot initiative to put a tax hike to increase funding for education to the voters, possibly as early as the 2012 general election.

Graphic from Free Software Foundation via Wikimedia Commons.

“We are looking seriously at this process because the legislative process is an impossible one,” said Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO. “With the two-thirds requirement in the constitution, what in effect that does – it has the minority control the majority wishes. You cannot solve the problem at the Legislature alone without some help from the people.”

Nevada has a two-thirds vote requirement in the Legislature to raise taxes or fees.

Thompson said Nevada needs more tax revenue to properly fund education, which in turn would help in the diversification of the state economy and lead to the creation of jobs.

In an interview with Jim Rogers today on KRNV Channel 4 in Reno on the “Inside Nevada” segment of the noon news, Thompson cited a September poll by the Retail Association of Nevada showing public support for raising taxes if the money is spent on education.

“And I think the solution is, do it by the people, that way the Legislature doesn’t have as much wiggle room, and put the money toward education,” he said.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO.

The survey of Nevada voters by the Retail Association of Nevada actually showed that 57 percent would prefer to raise taxes rather than see further cuts in spending to education and health care. Sixty-four percent also said higher taxes would lead to job losses, however.

Other polls conducted in Nevada over the years have often shown voter support for specific types of tax increases, such as those imposed on gaming or on alcohol and cigarettes. Voters have typically not favored increases in the sales tax or property tax.

Asked to comment on a potential tax ballot initiative, Nevada state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the issue properly belongs in the Legislature.

“I don’t think there are very many people in the state that believe that tax policy should be through ballot initiative,” he said. “We can talk about it now, we should be talking about it now, between now and next February (2013). But it is the job of the Legislature to make those decisions.”

The Nevada Legislature will convene again in 2013.

Ballot measures are not always well thought out and often cause more problems than they solve, Roberson said.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

“We all want to have more revenue and more funding for education,” he said. “Education and job creation are the two biggest issues facing the state. This state is certainly at a crossroads. We have got to reform education but we all know we need to fund education better.”

Roberson said he and his Senate Republican colleagues would be happy to sit down with Thompson, as well as with legislative Democrats, to discuss and work toward an acceptable solution regarding tax policy and tax reform.

“But I don’t think a ballot initiative to raise taxes is the answer,” he said.

Rogers, the owner of KRNV and several other television stations in the West, said during the interview he would support such an initiative as well.

In a telephone interview with the Nevada News Bureau, Thompson said details of a proposed voter initiative have not been finalized. A petition could take the form either of an amendment to the state constitution or a less restrictive change to state law to increase taxes, he said. No decision has been on which taxes would be proposed for hikes, Thompson said.

He acknowledged that getting a measure qualified for the ballot is difficult given the likely legal challenges and the signature collection effort itself.

A voter initiative to amend the state constitution would need 72,352 valid signatures collected by June 19, 2012 to have it placed on the November 2012 general election ballot. It would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and 2014, to take effect.

Changing state law would require the same number of signatures to be collected by Nov. 13, 2012. The initiative petition would go to the Legislature in 2013. If lawmakers did not enact the proposal, it would go to the voters in 2014.

The AFL-CIO has had success in getting measures on the ballot before, including a constitutional amendment raising Nevada’s minimum wage.

“People are fed up,” Thompson said. “We have the lowest spending on education in the nation and we have the highest unemployment with no solution to these problems in sight, and we have a total dependency on a single industry for paying our bills.”

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Audio clips:

AFL-CIO chief Danny Thompson says the union is seriously considering putting a tax hike before the voters:

111611Thompson1 :25 from the people.”

Thompson says Nevada needs to spend more on education to help diversify the economy:

111611Thompson2 :19 paying our bills.”

Nevada state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, says it is the job of the Legislature to set tax policy:

111611Roberson1 :31 make those decisions.”

Roberson says it is clear to everyone that education needs more funding:

11611Roberson2 : 20 fund education better.”

 

 

Legislature Votes To Cut Pay To State And University Workers

By Andrew Doughman | 3:54 pm May 10th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Legislators on money committees today approved on a party-line vote a 4.8 percent salary cut to state and higher education employees.

The proposal would include a 2.3 percent cut through furloughs – about six days per year – and a 2.5 percent salary reduction.

Gov. Brian Sandoval had proposed in his budget a 5 percent salary cut to state and higher education workers.

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, advanced the 4.8 percent “compromise” cut. Legislative staff said it would create a shortfall between $7.5 and $10 million in the governor’s budget.

The vote passed with all Democrats voting for the idea and all Republicans voting against it. In an earlier vote, Republicans voted to follow the governor’s recommendation while Democrats voted against it.

Republicans characterized the salary reductions and cuts to benefits as similar to reductions in the private sector.

“What we are seeing here is a continuation of that downsizing,” said Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno.

Democrats contended that government does not operate like private businesses; rather than seeing less business during a recession, more people depend on state services in a recession.

“If we are going to apply true business principles to government, we should be hiring right now … our demand is way up,” said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas.

Union representatives and higher education faculty testified against the cuts, saying that they much preferred furloughs to salary cuts.

Danny Thompson of the AFL-CIO also said that reductions in the governor’s budget have provoked a grassroots movement that could punish Republicans during next year’s elections.

“I would caution you that if you don’t solve this problem, that organic uprising that has already happened is going to spread and the people are going to solve this problem,” Thompson said.

Legislators also voted to continue suspending merit and longevity pay as well as eliminating holiday premium pay for higher education and state workers. Legislative staff said that these decisions should save the state $71.5 million.

Yesterday, legislators voted to curtail health care benefits for public sector employees.

Public sector employee union representatives said they have already endured these reductions in pay and benefits for several years as Nevada has struggled through the recession.

“It is so totally unfair what we are doing to our state government,” said Jan Gilbert of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

The governor has earlier argued that furlough days resulted in less productivity from employees, causing longer lines at places such as the DMV.

None of the votes are binding, and the Legislature may decide to alter the proposals as they finalize the budget.

Legislative committees last week voted not to reduce pay for school district employees nor did they choose to suspend merit pay for school district employees.

Those decisions could cost the state $402 million during the next two years.

Democrats last week proposed a revenue package totaling about $1.2 billion comprising a continuation of taxes approved by the 2009 Legislature and scheduled to end this year as well as a tax on businesses’ gross revenue and a sales tax on some services.

If passed, these tax increases could pay for that $402 million cost.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also noted a potential budget consequence in cutting salaries. He said that the sustained compensation cuts could lead some state workers to favor retirement over working for less.

Dana Bilyeu of the Public Employees’ Retirement System estimated that 2,000 current state employees are eligible to collect full retirement benefits.

Should they choose to retire, the state would have an unfunded obligation to cash out those retiring employees for accrued sick leave, she said.

Bilyeu and others in the committee room could not estimate a cost, but she said about 1,000 more teachers than usual retired due to changes in benefits following the 2007 legislative session, causing the state to lose millions of dollars.

 

 

 

Tow Truck Bill Focus Of “Huge Lobbying Effort”

By Andrew Doughman | 7:56 am May 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – It has been called the most lobbied bill during the legislative session, and it is has nothing to do with taxes.

All the fuss is about changes to the tow truck and auto salvage industry.

In one corner are a wealthy business owner who often contributes to political campaigns, the auto insurance industry, the AFL-CIO and a former Speaker of the Assembly whose clients include  a now-indicted poker company.

In the other corner are tow truck companies, salvage yards, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and a group called the Nevada Tow Car Council.

Somewhere in the middle are two groups: citizen members of the Nevada Assembly, some of whom professed to know little of about the auto industry during a hearing yesterday, and average Nevadans who pay auto insurance and may someday have a vehicle towed.

At stake are potentially lucrative, monopolistic deals for business groups.

Senate Bill 407 would change how tow companies treat vehicles that end up in accidents in Clark County. Tow companies currently take those vehicles to their lots, where people can find their vehicles later.

A proposed amendment to the bill would allow insurance companies to contract with an independent storage lot. If you got in a wreck, your vehicle would go to the insurance company’s lot, where you could retrieve it later.

“I don’t know where all the money is coming from on that bill, but there is a huge lobbying effort on that,” said Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, who heard the bill in a Senate Transportation Committee last month. “There were so many good people on both sides of it that both made good points.”

Dueling Lobbyists Argue Bill Could Create Or Destroy Monopoly

The main proponent of the bill is Bobby Ellis, a businessman who often contributes to political campaigns and owns SNAP towing.

Richard Perkins, a former Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, is lobbying the bill on behalf of Ellis.

Former Speaker Richard Perkins (center), meets with lobbyists and Bobby Ellis, a Henderson businessman, after a legislative hearing. Perkins says Senate Bill 407 does not favor Ellis. "It just gives a level playing field so everyone can compete," he said. /PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

He said that just two tow companies get all the business for vehicles involved in accidents. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police authorize Ewing Brothers and Quality Towing to tow cars from accident scenes.

“A monopoly is what they have now,” he said, noting complaints of price gouging and abuse.

Those two companies can charge fees ratified by the Nevada Transportation Authority.

The bill would allow insurance companies to contract with companies offering lower fees, Perkins said.

“This really opens it up for people instead of protecting the current monopoly,” he said. “You shouldn’t be a victim of an accident and of a tow company. … If they weren’t raping the public we wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Opponents to the bill note that Ellis is a consultant for Insurance Auto Auctions, which bought his salvage yard several years ago. They say this gives him an in with insurance companies and a reason to contract with Ellis.

Towing company representatives like Paul Enos say that the bill will create a monopoly for Ellis.

Ellis contended that this is not true.

“A lot of people say this is a special interest bill, but I may not even get a contract out of it,” he said.

Opponents to the bill said it has little to do with auto insurance consumers and people who get in accidents. They say that the bill ultimately benefits Ellis and the insurance industry.

“They will absorb the savings, it will never get to the consumer,” said Jason Kent of Quality Towing. “This bill would make us give up the most profitable part of our business.”

Most tow truck companies earn a hefty chunk of their revenue from storing vehicles, said Dennis Milk of Tow Guys towing company.

Some vehicles then move along to salvage yards or auto auction companies, two of which testified against the bill.

Sam McMullen, a lobbyist representing Copart Auto Auctions told a legislative committee “that kind of relationship” between Ellis and Insurance Auto Auctions gave his client concern about the bill.

Sam McMullen, lobbyist for Copart Auto Auctions meets with lobbyists for tow truck companies and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department prior to a legislative hearing. McMullen said Ellis' business relationships "cause concern" for this client. /PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Michael Geeser, lobbyist for AAA, said that cost savings may not necessarily pass along to consumers.

“At least it gives us one more choice and a chance to perhaps bring prices down,” he told a legislative committee.

AFL-CIO representative Danny Thompson said the bill would help average Nevadans.

Representatives from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said they did not want to become “agents” for insurance companies in directing vehicles to the storage lots insurance companies designate.

Both proponents and opponents agreed on a portion of the bill that mandates the Nevada Transportation Authority to develop a standard set of fees for the tow truck and storage lot industry, which should help Nevadans.

Choice Of Committee Stirs Controversy

Further complicating the matter is the committee to which the bill was sent.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D- North Las Vegas, is the chairman of the Commerce and Labor committee that heard the bill yesteraday.

Opponents of the bill noted Atkinson is also the recipient of a trip to London paid for by Perkins on behalf of his client, Pokerstars, a company which is now under federal investigation.

Perkins called those implications a “cheap shot” and a “smear campaign.”

Henderson businessman Bobby Ellis was at the Nevada Legislature to support Senate Bill 407. He said the bill is about consumers. "All their (towing industry) gravy and all these charges will go away and it'll help the consumer,

Opponents of the bill pointed at the thousands of dollars Ellis contributed to members of the Commerce and Labor committee.

But groups such as the Nevada Motor Transport Association, which represents tow truck companies and others, also made donations to members of that committee.

If anything, the allegations proved there is money in the fight, and there are a gaggle of lobbyists on both sides who will hope to turn the ear of a member of Nevada’s Assembly before the bill returns for a vote.

The committee has yet to take action on the bill.

 

 

 

 

Debate Over State Budget ‘End Game’ Suggests Compromise Far Off

By Andrew Doughman | 7:38 pm April 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, wanted honesty about the Legislature’s budget “end game,” and he got it.

At a legislative town hall featuring 21 lobbyists, lawmakers and business leaders, the candid comments from panelists seemed to suggest a looming budget compromise is a fool’s hope.

“You’re not going to get a tax increase through this Senate,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, one of the panelists. “You’re simply not going to get it.”

He clashed again with AFL-CIO lobbyist and co-panelist Danny Thompson. Now both men have said they are “offended” by what the other has said about collective bargaining. Roberson’s bill to change collective bargaining law died in committee last week.

Hickey gave each panelist about five minutes to speak, which was enough time for each panelist to repeat a few key talking points.

“It seemed business as usual,” said Jim Cooley, lobbyist for the Nevada Libertarian Party. “It was basically, ‘this is my pitch.’”

Each speaker brought his or her own expertise to the discussion. But the debate was framed by the needs and wants of each participant.

Washoe County Superintendent Heath Morrison called for education reforms paired with more funding than Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed in his general fund budget.

“We must improve education,” Morrison said. “Only by providing an educated workforce are businesses going to want to come to Nevada and stay in Nevada.”

Chuck Muth, conservative activist for Citizen Outreach, maintained his firm stance against new taxes.

“It is no longer sufficient to say that the government needs to do more with less,” Muth said. “It is time for us to start saying that the government needs to do less with less.”

Heidi Gansert, Sandoval’s chief of staff, did her best to put a new spin on the talking points representatives from the governor’s office have used to defend the budget since its January release.

“We recognize that there are some very difficult cuts,” Gansert said. “It’s time that we have to do that.”

Hickey organized the town hall meeting to bring a diverse crowd to one place to debate, as the title of the forum suggested, “the recession, revenues and Nevada’s recovery.” He said earlier that he wanted Nevada’s political players to put their “cards on the table.”

At least one lobbyist in the audience said he was discouraged that the cards the players revealed today were the same hands they were holding two months ago.

“I think it shows how firm both sides are in their positions, which means we probably are not playing for an end game in that first week of June,” said Paul Enos, a lobbyist for the Nevada Motor Transport Association.

Former Republican Sen. Randolph Townsend spoke at the event and channeled his colleague, former Republican Sen. Bill Raggio, in calling for more respect in the legislative debate.

“Deal only with the issue in front of you,” he said. “Don’t tie the issue to the person … the day you make it personal you lose … It’s a lot harder to become vitriolic when it’s somebody you know.”

Members of the public also joined by watching online or attending the town hall at the Legislature. Robert Stransbury, 64, is a retired teacher and Carson City resident who listened to the debate from the Legislature.

“I took away that there’s some very strong opinions on opposing sides,” he said. “I hope that they can agree and come together and get a budget.”

To that end, Townsend had some advice for the current legislators struggling to do more than cobble together a budget at the last minute.

“Once in awhile you have to walk out of the [legislative] building, breathe the clean air and try to get a different perspective, and right now that is what the building needs,” he said.

The 120-day legislative session is scheduled to end during the first week of June.

 

Assemblyman Asks Lawmakers To Put “Cards On The Table” In Forum Today

By Andrew Doughman | 12:47 pm April 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY — Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Sparks, is asking other legislators to “lay your cards on the table.”

As the budget debate in Carson City roils to no discernible conclusion, Hickey is bringing 21 lawmakers, business leadersa and academics to the Legislature to talk taxes and government reform.

“This forum will help get out into the open things that have only been talked about behind closed doors,” Hickey said. “As moderator, I plan to press participants to speak openly about the ‘end game’ here this session.”

That end game has traditionally involved closed door meetings between legislative leadership.

Hickey will moderate the “Recession, Revenues and Nevada’s Recovery” panel today between 3 – 5 p.m. at the Legislature. Viewers online can watch here.

Hickey said he would like to have a serious discussion in public that could evolve into legislative negotiations about the budget.

At the very least, the diversity of voices at the forum should provide an interesting sideshow to the day-in, day-out legislative hearings and committees.

Speaking at the forum span nearly every position on the tax debate. Politically, Hickey’s guests span the spectrum from left to right and include representatives from unions and contractors, free-market libertarians and progressive groups, chambers of commerce and school districts.

Hickey’s forum is not the only change in the legislative end game.

This year, Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate have said they will conduct budget hearings in the Assembly and Senate chambers. They say the move will lead to more transparency and include more legislators in budget discussions.

As first reported in the Las Vegas Sun, the change could prompt legislators toward a budget battle over education.

The Legislature has 49 days remaining to conclude its session, pass a budget and finish the drawing of political districts as required every 10 years by the U.S. Census.

 

Panelists for the “Recession, Revenues and Nevada’s Recovery” include:

Heidi Gansert, the governor’s chief of staff

Speaker Pro Tempore Debbie Smith, D-Sparks

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas

Tray Abney, Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce

Carole Vilardo – Nevada Taxpayers Association

Dr. Elliott Parker – UNR economist

Clara Andriola – Associated Builders and Contractors

Geoffrey Lawrence – Nevada Policy Research Institute economist

Dr. Heath Morrison – Washoe County School District superintendent

Mary Lau – Retail Association of Nevada

Dr. Tyrus Cobb – former assistant to President Ronald Reagan

Neil Medina – Northern Nevada Contractor

Jim Pfrommer – Education Alliance of Washoe County

Former Sen. Randolph Townsend

Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, R-Mesquite

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks

Bob Fulkerson, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada

Chuck Muth – Citizen Outreach

Dave Humke – Washoe County Commissioner

Danny Thompson – AFL-CIO union representative

Norm Dianda – Q&D Construction

Public Sector Unions And Local Governments Spar Over Collective Bargaining Bill

By Andrew Doughman | 8:28 pm April 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – In the end, only acrimony prevailed.

Legislators did not immediately vote on a bill from Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, but a hearing on Senate Bill 343 provoked heated testimony over how local governments and public sector unions bargain their contracts.

Lobbyists for public sector unions called the bill “insulting,” and by the end of the hearing, Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, asked people to apologize to each other for “derogatory comments.”

The bill that caused all the fuss would do this: It would eliminate a third-party, binding arbitration process in management and labor contract disputes and instead impose the local government’s contract offer for up to one year.

Roberson said this would allow a system that would save taxpayers up to $2.3 billion as well as provide a clearer chain of accountability to local governments bargaining these contracts.

Despite national scenes like the Wisconsin protests over collective bargaining, the Roberson’s bill sparked the first debate about local government contracts have in the Nevada Legislature this year.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has not emphasized changes to the collective bargaining law.

Assembly Republicans have been more brazen in endorsing a stronger position for management in the bargaining debate. Such a bill could be a bargaining chip at the end of the legislative session, as Democrats try to convince a few key Republicans to vote for a tax increase to offset cuts in Sandoval’s proposed $5.8 billion budget.

Public sector unions have traditionally been a strong ally to Democratic candidates, making a bill like Roberson’s potentially unpalatable to his colleagues across the aisle.

Union groups opposed Roberson’s bill.

Danny Thompson, representing the AFL-CIO, raised his voice when testifying against the bill. He said union workers have taken pay cuts during this economic recession.

“The reality is this: to blame collective bargaining for the problems that local governments are having or that we are having is insulting to me, I have to tell you,” he said.

The Nevada Legislature established collective bargaining in Nevada during 1969. Since then, local governments and unions have bargained contracts through a process of fact finding and arbitration.

The two sides – labor and management – present evidence and a fact-finder issues a report. If both sides do not accept the report, they can turn to an arbiter to make a final decision of whose offer will take effect.

Lobbyists for police and fire fighters unions testified that most of the time the unions lose if arbitration is used, which they said was proof collective bargaining is not a broken system that cheats taxpayers out of money.

“If you were to implement this bill, you will not have collective bargaining anymore,” said Rusty McAllister, representing the Professional Firefighters of Nevada. “You will have collective begging.”

But Roberson said earlier that ending the final arbitration process and defaulting to the employer’s offer for one year would save local governments money.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said this might upset the balance between unions and management.

“Putting this subsection into the bill would cause a local government, an employer, to consider the fact that they have this to fall back on, hence bargaining in good faith might not be something they would do,” he said.

Roberson, after listening to prolonged testimony in opposition to his bill, interjected that Parks had not given supporters equal time to testify.

Parks tried to close the hearing, sparking a hushed conversation that ended with several other supporters of the bill testifying.

Cegavske had the final word when she decried “derogatory comments” that she said lobbyists had made during the hearing.

The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections committee that heard the bill took no immediate action on it.