Posts Tagged ‘tax’

State Lawmaker To Take Aim Again At Fast-Food Sales In Effort To Combat Obesity

By Sean Whaley | 3:16 pm July 2nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, said today he will try again with a bill in the 2013 session to impose a fee on some items sold at fast-food restaurants in an effort to help combat the national obesity epidemic.

Munford’s proposal, which he said may be expanded to include “junk food” type items sold in other food establishments as well, is one of 144 bill draft requests listed on the Nevada Legislature’s website.

Photo by Aspen04 via Wikimedia Commons.

Munford said his idea is to increase the cost of fast-food items in an effort to get people to choose healthier foods. Money raised from the fee would be directed at programs to combat obesity, he said.

“Not that we were going to deny anybody the opportunity to purchase those things,” he said. “But we just want to put a little tax on it just to make them conscious that it would be a little more expensive than it normally would be.”

The fee might act as a deterrent and get parents to think twice before opting to buy less healthy fast-food items, Munford said.

Munford said he will work with legislative legal staff to refine his proposal and define clearly which items would be subject to the fee.

He introduced similar legislation in the 2011 session, but Assembly Bill 399 did not get a hearing. That bill imposed a five cent fee on fast-food items that contained 500 calories or more.

Munford said a proposal by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban the sale of large-size sugary sodas in the city because of concerns about obesity has helped convince him to try again with his bill.

Nevada would not be the first state to consider a “fat tax”. A California lawmaker in 2011 proposed a penny-an-ounce tax on soda pop and other sweetened drinks. The bill did not pass.

The Nevada State Health Division issued a report in 2010 indicating that statewide, 18 percent of 4th, 7th and 10th graders are overweight and 20 percent are obese.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent, or 12.5 million children aged 2 to 19 are obese. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.

-

Audio clip:

Assemblyman Harvey Munford says he wants a fee charged on unhealthy fast-food items in an effort to deter obesity:

070212Munford :14 normally would be.”

 

 

Online Sales Increasingly Cutting Into Tax Dollars, Says Retailers’ Group

By Anne Knowles | 2:00 pm September 1st, 2011

Nevada could take in $16 million less in tax dollars this year due to online sales, according to a new report by the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN).

Sales tax currently accounts for 28.3 percent of the state’s general fund revenue while gaming taxes bring in 23.6 percent. Nevada ranks 11th in the nation in terms of sales tax reliance, according to a Congressional Research Service report, while the state’s maximum sales tax rate, 8.1 percent in Clark County, ranks 20th.

According to RAN, internet sales means Nevada will lose upwards of $16 million in 2011, with other reports estimating as much $100 million lost annually. The Economic Forum forecasts the state will collect about $815.3 million in sales and use tax in 2011.

“As e-commerce becomes increasingly popular, Nevada faces ever greater sales and use tax revenue losses,” said Mary Lau, RAN president, in a statement on the findings. “Current estimates may only predict losses equivalent to 0.5 percent of total sales and use tax collections, but the impacts are certain to grow larger with time.”

Technically, buyers are supposed to pay a use tax with the state for purchases made online, but many consumers are either not aware of the tax or rarely pay it and is almost impossible for the tax department to monitor.

“It’s an odd tax, because the costs of compliance are actually higher than the costs of evasion,” said Geoff Lawrence, deputy director of policy at Nevada Policy Research Institute in Las Vegas.  “One alternative could be to require online retailers to email shoppers at the end of each year with their total purchase amount throughout the year and informing them of their total use tax liability, directing them to remit the use tax directly to the Nevada Department of Taxation.  An alternative like this would get around many problems while still protecting the privacy of individuals.”

Lawrence said states have no authority to collect sales tax from entities that have no physical presence in the state.

A bill amendment to tax online retailers failed during the 2011 Nevada legislative session.

Nevada is a member of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, a national effort to reduce the complexity of sales tax compliance so online retailers could be required to charge state sales on their goods sold.

 

NDOT begins field test of car tracking technology for potential new tax

By Anne Knowles | 9:51 am July 22nd, 2011

RENO – The Nevada Department of Transportation says technology it is testing to track car mileage as part of a potential new tax system would not violate drivers’ privacy.

NDOT is in the second phase of a multi-year study of the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, which would replace the existing fuel tax and be levied based on the number of miles a car travels rather than the amount of gas it consumes.

During the first phase of the study, completed last year, NDOT looked at many aspects of the VMT tax, including various workable technologies and a number of policy issues. Based on public feedback, the agency concluded that privacy was the number one concern.

“What we heard out of phase one is how important privacy was, the tracking of vehicles, so in phase two we got rid of that element altogether,” said R. Scott Rawlins, deputy director of NDOT at a public information meeting held on July 21.

“No one wants Big Brother watching them,” added Alauddin Khan, NDOT’s chief performance analysis engineer working on the project.

NDOT, in cooperation with the University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is now in the process of conducting a field test with 25 drivers in Las Vegas whose cars have been equipped with sensors connected to the automobile’s existing on-board diagnostics port. (All cars manufactured since 2003 have so-called OBD ports, which most automobile mechanics now use for computerized diagnostics.)

The Chevron gas station at the corner of Maryland and Tropicana in Las Vegas has been equipped with wireless technology that reads the cars’ odometers each time drivers in the test group come in to fill up their gas tanks.

Drivers can pump the gas and leave, without any human intervention, while the sensor sends their car’s odometer data to a computer inside the gas station. Drivers can also choose to collect a receipt inside the station to keep track of their mileage and tax.

The NODT study is not testing the collection of the fee, which could be handled in a number of ways, including at the point of purchase or on a monthly or even annual basis.

The technology costs about $20 per car in this trial phase, according to UNLV assistant professor Alexander Paz, who is part of the team developing the system. Paz said the technology would be less expensive in a wider roll out.

The third phase of the NDOT study, planned for next year, would test the technology in as many as 1,500 vehicles.

Citizens who attended the public meeting expressed their concerns with the program.

“A lot of my questions had to do with the security of the data and how they were going to record mileage that would end up being truly anonymous,” said Ron Nichols, a Reno resident who was one of a handful of area residents at the NDOT gathering. “So I saw a potential big issue with data privacy.”

Nichols said the technology being tested allayed some of his concerns, but he said he was still uncertain how the data would remain anonymous.

He and others who attended the meeting also saw another potential pitfall to the VMT.

Will drivers be taxed twice for miles driven in another state? If, for example, a Nevada driver travels into California, buys gas there and pays that state’s fuel tax, would the driver also pay VMT tax on those miles when they return to a gas pump in Nevada?

“If I fill up in Wendover and my odometer reads 10,000 miles, then I drive all over the country and come back and my odometer reads 20,000 miles, how will that work?” asked Nichols. “It would have to be implemented countrywide,and the chances of that are zero.”

“My main interest is if you do a lot of traveling, how is this going to add up?” said Steve Keller, a retired Reno resident who drives to his second home in Monterey, Calif., twice each month. “Where’s the fairness in that?”

Rawlins said concern over double-taxation could be mitigated by a reporting system much like the system used today by long-haul truckers. But he and others conceded that for a VMT tax to work, it would likely have to be implemented nationwide.

Because of that, Rawlins said a viable VMT system is at least ten to 15 years away from reality.

More than a dozen states are looking at the VMT, and NDOT is part of the Mileage Based User Fee Alliance, a group comprised of officials from the states that are considering the tax. The Obama administration, however, recently backtracked on support of the VMT, so its future is unknown.

The NDOT field test is costing $400,000 and is being paid for by federal dollars and in-kind donations from UNLV. It will conclude in October with a report expected in early 2012.

__

Audio clip:

NDOT’s Rawlins predicts a workable VMT tax is at least a decade away:

072111Rawlins2 :10 fifteen years out”

 

Governor Vetoes Democratic K-12 Spending Plan

By Andrew Doughman | 2:58 pm May 16th, 2011

CARSON CITY — Governor Brian Sandoval today vetoed the Democratic spending proposal for Nevada’s K-12 budget.

Democrats and Republicans had been at loggerheads during debate over the bill, largely because it would provide for spending almost $700 million more than Sandoval wanted.

As expected, Sandoval vetoed Assembly Bill 568 because he said “it increases state spending by nearly $660 million above the amount proposed in the Executive Budget.”

In a statement explaining the veto, Sandoval also contended that the bill is a “circuitous attempt to secure a tax increase” by passing a spending bill without the money to back it.

Democrats have, however, proposed a $1.2 billion tax package that ostensibly would raise the money to pay for the expenditures in the bill.

By passing the bill and putting it before the governor, Democrats forced the governor’s hand in signing the veto.

“In the past when governors veto a bill they usually tell you why,” said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, after the bill passed last week. ”It’ll be interesting to see why.”

Sandoval, however, objected to what he said was the “clear intention of casting opponents [to the bill] as somehow ‘anti-education’ while at the same time forcing a tax increase.”

The $660 million would have paid for such things as teacher’s salaries, which the governor had proposed to cut by 5 percent.

“Today, the governor not only turns his back on the struggling schools of Nevada, but he also risks turning our successful schools into factories of underachievement,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in a statement released after the veto.

Rather than an immediate tax increase, the governor said in his veto statement that he prefers waiting for an economic recovery to bring in more money for schools.

“I proposed that ‘triggers’ be adopted so additional funding can continue to go straight to support of the classroom as revenue becomes available through economic recovery,” he said.

 

 

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

Moody’s Downgrades Nevada’s Credit Rating

By Andrew Doughman | 2:09 pm March 24th, 2011

Despite upgrading Nevada’s outlook from negative to stable, the credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded Nevada’s credit rating to Aa2 from Aa1.

The rationale behind the adjustment involves Nevada’s Legislature. Moody’s cited the two-thirds supermajority required to raise taxes as a negative in Nevada.

The Moody’s report released today notes that the potential need to renew the temporary tax increases passed during 2009 could create a challenge for the Legislature.

The governor has said he does not want to extend those tax increases.

“Also, a two-thirds majority of each house of the Legislature is required to renew the taxes into the 2012-2013 biennium and beyond,” writes Moody’s analyst Julius Vizner. “The supermajority requirement to raise taxes presents a hurdle to achieving balance on an ongoing basis going forward.”

The report also notes that Nevada’s economy is largely dependent on discretionary spending in the gaming and tourism industries.

According to the report, Nevada’s revenue base lacks diversity. The state depends too much on revenues from sales tax and gaming revenues. An economic recovery in Nevada could stall if either of those revenue sources falter.

On the positive side, Moody’s analysts note that Gov. Brian Sandoval has the will to make budget cuts.

The report also noted that Nevada has a relatively low debt burden at $2.4 billion and, as the Nevada News Bureau has reported before, the outlook for funding Nevada’s pension system is bright.

Nevada’s declining home prices, however, stymie economic growth.

The collapse of the housing bubble has ratcheted property values down, which presents challenges to lawmakers crafting the state’s budget.

Today, financial officers at Nevada’s school districts testified before a legislative committee about declining property tax collections.

Nonetheless, Moody’s cited upticks in gaming revenues as a sign of a nascent economic recovery.

“The stable outlook reflects our expectation that the economy will recover slowly in the state and that the state’s finances will be weak in the next biennium,” Vizner wrote.

According to Moody’s, Nevada’s credit rating could bounce back if it diversifies its economy and tax base while growing its economy as a whole.

Likewise, Moody’s indicated that it would further downgrade Nevada’s rating should the Legislature delay implementing reforms to the state’s tax base.

Nevada’s credit rating might further erode if it does not cut spending if revenue collections fall short of projections.

Nevada will receive a formal revenue forecast on May 1, which will be crucial for legislators as they piece together the state budget for the next two years.

 

 

Assemblyman’s Bill Could Extract Millions In Revenue From Casinos

By Andrew Doughman | 1:23 pm March 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, may have just found the state $20 to $35 millions in new revenue.

Under his proposal, if you lose or do not redeem a paper voucher printed from a slot machine, the state would sweep that money into its coffers as unclaimed property. Right now, casinos pay taxes on that money and count the remainder as revenue.

Horne argued that the person owns the voucher rather than the casino. Additionally, he said it would be impossible to track down the owner of the voucher. So that money should revert to the state as unclaimed property.

The bill comes as lawmakers are desperately searching for money to fund state services.

The Assembly  Judiciary Committee debated Horne’s bill this morning.

Representatives from the gaming industry  testified against the bill. Conversely, progressive groups testified in support of the bill because any new revenue would help fund programs they want to save from elimination.

Pete Ernaut, lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, said that the underlying mission of the state’s unclaimed property is to match the property with its owner.

Ernaut said that the state Treasurer, who handles unclaimed property, would have to try to match every voucher with its owner. This could mean that the state would have to spend money to try to find the owner of a $1 voucher.

Ernaut gave the committee the $20 to $35 million estimate of the value of all tickets that currently go unclaimed.

Horne disagreed with Ernaut, saying that there is no identifiable information on the voucher.

“We also would contend that this does not become the property of the player until it is redeemed,” Ernaut said.

This would negate Horne’s argument that the voucher becomes a player’s property – not the casino’s – when the slot machine spits out a ticket.

But Horne dismissed Ernaut’s arguments.

“The opposition, they would like this to be a very complicated issue,” Horne said. “In the end, this is a simple case on unclaimed property and who should get it. All the other stuff just muddies the waters and tries to make it more complicated than it actually is.”

The committee took no action on the bill.

 

Thousands Expected Today For Huge Rally For Revenue At Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 12:01 am March 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – In what could be the largest rally ever held at the Legislature, more than 1,000 students, parents, teachers and activists are expected today to protest education budget cuts.

Hundreds from Las Vegas have hopped aboard a convoy of buses to join their northern counterparts in making a call for more revenue – read: tax increases – to bridge Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed $160 million cuts to the higher education budget.

Organizers say they hope their rally will spark a shift in the debate at the Legislature, where lawmakers have yet to advance any public plans for new revenue.

“I hope these politicians will change their tone,” said Michael Flores, an organizer for Progress Now Nevada. “In Carson, there’s a different atmosphere. They beat around the bush a lot …people feel that, you know what, we have got to get on the ball with this.”

Casey Stiteler, who coordinates the UNR student body’s governmental affairs said the key message is mitigating both cuts and tuition increases.

“We understand very much that a number of important, vital services are being cut as well, but we want to make sure our concerns are being taken in account as these decisions are being made,” Stiteler said.

University presidents have already drafted tentative plans for tuition increases between 10 and 15 percent. They may use a combination of tuition increases, faculty and staff pay cuts, program cuts and reduced course offerings to balance their budgets.

Students have said before that this plan is unacceptable. If their numbers alone do not send that message, then at the very least the UNR pep band playing outside the Legislature should grab some ears.

And it is not just students from universities who are showing up.

Leo Murrieta of the Nevada Youth Coalition has recruited about 150 high school students. He has talked to hundreds of parents and obtained excused absences from school so that students can get a real-life civics lesson.

“The overall response was this is more important, this is something my kid should partake in,” said Murrieta, who has spent most of his recent evenings organizing the trip.

Rally Has Been Months In The Making

Sara Sinnett, a 19-year-old UNR student, texts students Sunday afternoon to remind them about the March 21 rally at the Legislature, which is expected to draw thousands.

All of these groups – K-12, higher education and progressive organizations – have not exactly had problems recruiting for the rally.

People are fed up.

Previous legislative town hall events have been packed with Nevadans upset about the governor’s proposed cuts.

So how, exactly, does that anger translate into action?

Student and community leaders have been planning the rally since January. They have made phone calls, spoke in classrooms and held events to spread the word. They even allotted student fees to rent buses; UNLV used $15,000 to rent buses for the overnight haul from Las Vegas to Carson City, an expense the UNLV College Republicans have called unnecessary and “wasteful.”

Sara Sinnett, a 19-year-old psychology major at the University of Nevada, Reno, spent hours Sunday afternoon sending reminders to students to get on the Carson City-bound buses come Monday morning.

While she has spent countless hours phone banking and speaking in front of her classes about the March 21 event, she said the old shoe-and-leather approach has not been the most effective.

“The best way we’ve found out to do this is Facebook,” she said. “We’ve also done things like text message campaigns.”

In Las Vegas, Flores has prepped for the rally for weeks. Much of his work has been through text messages and Facebook.

“A lot of people don’t pick up the newspaper anymore, so you put that [news story] on Facebook and that’s how people get fired up about this,” he said.

Whatever the medium, the message got out. But it did not happen overnight.

How much time does it take to coordinate hundreds of people statewide?

“Well, I don’t sleep anymore,” Flores said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State Lawmaker Proposes Taxing Bottled Water As Way To Increase Revenues

By Sean Whaley | 3:48 pm October 13th, 2010

CARSON CITY – A Nevada lawmaker has asked for a bill to be drafted to require bottled water to be subjected to the state sales tax.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said bottled water is included under the sales tax exemption for food in Nevada even though it has no nutritional value.

Segerblom said taxing the beverage would bring in much needed revenue for the upcoming two-year budget. It is time for the Legislature to review all tax exemptions as a way to generate revenue for programs without raising taxes, he said.

Segerblom says he does not support taxing food.

“The purpose as I understand to exempt food is you don’t want to make it any more expensive than possible for people to survive, and obviously again, bottled water is not necessary to survive,” he said.

The only exception in Nevada now is prepared food intended for immediate consumption, which is subject to the sales tax.

The bill draft request was actually made by Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, on behalf of Segerblom. Mortenson, who is termed out of office and won’t be serving in the 2011 legislative session, said he gave Segerblom one of his bill draft requests as a courtesy, even though he does not support the idea.

Segerblom said he has been unable to get information on how much revenue might come from taxing bottled water, which has become a ubiquitous item provided at meetings and carried by many people on a routine basis.

Tom Lauria, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association, called a move to tax bottled water shortsighted.

“The FDA is very clear in classifying bottled water as a food, and for some people it is a necessity,” he said. “They don’t have up-to-standard tap water or they have personal immunity problems from cancer or HIV and they require purified water as part of their regular diet.”

Bottled water is very popular, seeing a slight decline last year but still hitting sales of more than $8 billion in the U.S., Lauria said.

Most states that do not tax food do not tax bottled water either, he said. Three states that do not tax food, Washington, New York, and Maryland, have chosen to tax bottled water, Lauria said.

The temporary tax on bottled water in Washington is now on the November ballot for potential repeal by voters.

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom says bottled water has no nutritional value and could bring in much needed state revenue:

101310Segerblom1 :28 from eating properly.”

Segerblom says a sales tax exemption on food does not need to include bottled water:

101310Segerblom2 :14 necessary to survive.”

Tom Lauria of the International Bottled Water Association says imposing a tax on bottled water is shortsighted:

101310Lauria :27 their regular diet.”

New Nevada Tax Amnesty Program Set To Begin July 1

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 4:16 pm June 24th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada is about to begin a new tax amnesty program in the hopes of bringing in several million dollars worth of uncollected revenue to help with a severe budget shortfall.

The amnesty program, which will run for three months beginning July 1, was approved by the Legislature in a special session in February as a way to help close an $800 million gap in the general fund budget.

The amnesty, which will allow taxpayers to pay taxes owed without any interest or penalties, is expected to bring in an estimated $10 million. It is being administered by the state Department of Taxation.

A previous amnesty authorized by Gov. Jim Gibbons in 2008 brought in more than $27 million. It only covered sales and use taxes, business license fees and modified business taxes.

The new amnesty program, as approved in Assembly Bill 6 of the 2010 special session, is broader, including cigarette taxes, liquor taxes, insurance premium taxes and other levies.

The one-time amnesty is for businesses and individuals who owe taxes that were due before July 1, 2010 and have not been paid. The program will allow penalty and interest to be waived provided the outstanding tax debt is paid in full during the amnesty period.

Certain restrictions apply to taxpayers who have already entered into settlement agreements or offers in compromise with the Nevada Department of Taxation.

Nevada Think Tank NPRI Gets Extra Thinky on Tax Reform

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:04 pm June 2nd, 2010

The fact that I didn’t blog about this new tax proposal from NPRI yesterday, Dear Readers, should not be interpreted as an indication that I think it’s unimportant.  The delay was a factor of time because it was a very busy day and the report is 32 pages long (to be fair to its author, that includes a blank page and six very pretty charts and graphs).

The report may be the most notable thing to come out of the Nevada Policy Research Institute in some time.  And oddly enough, it’s about levying taxes.  Or rather, adjusting them around a bit.

Here are the key elements from the suggested (revenue-neutral) reforms:

• Eliminating the modified business tax;

• Eliminating the insurance premium tax;

• Broadening the sales tax base and reducing the statewide sales tax to 3.5 percent;

• Implementing priority-based budgeting; and

• Implementing spending controls that limit state spending growth to the rate of inflation plus population increase.

There are things here to either love or hate, depending on your perspective.  Which is an indicator that as a whole it could qualify as a pretty good piece of policy.  If every legislator has to give in some areas in order gain in others, no one feels like he “lost” — and no one can boast that he “won.”  (Well, ok, he can.  And probably will, especially when up for reelection.  But in any good legislative compromise, the players tolerate the trumped up public rhetoric of their good friends across the political aisle while remaining privately content with reality.)

I’ll let you read the report for yourself, but here are some early thoughts after my first read:

It may or may not be the best solution for stabilizing Nevada’s tax base, but is a solution, and one that is viable enough to kick off a statewide dialogue.

Whatever one’s political leanings, it cannot be denied that the general volatility of tax revenue is a problem for Nevada and many other states.  Fluctuations in revenue cause all kinds of hardships which are then blamed on all kinds of random things as public officials, most of whom are also politicians, scramble to make adjustments and cover their anterior regions.

Erratic revenue streams also tend to impede planned, steady growth of worthy infrastructure(s) that is/are the foundation of civil society.

Compounding the instability problem is government’s tendency to spend every dime it takes in, and then some, when revenues are flowing freely.  History shows us that state legislators of both parties are incurable amnesiacs who can nearly always be relied upon to forget about past budget crunches while assuming present-day cash will keep coming ad infinitum.

The quick, common cure for this ailment of fiscal forgetfulness?  A good dose of tax hikes, either via rate increases of existing taxes or brand new taxes and fees.

Just like those that came out of Nevada’s 2003 legislative session, including a modified business tax, real property transfer tax and bank branch excise tax.  And hikes to the cigarette, liquor and gaming tax.  (Ever notice that most legislators are happy to tax you long-time if you smoke, drink or gamble?  Good thing no one in Nevada likes to do any of those things.)

And then came 2004-2005, and lo-and-behold, in a never-before-seen phenomenon caused by the collision of tax hikes and economic boom times (insert dripping sarcasm here), the state’s General Fund grew bigger and bigger and economic projections became rosier than the lenses in Janis Joplin’s favorite sunglasses.

Groovy.

Except that the oh-so-predictable response of our esteemed elected was to (drum roll) spend every stinking dime of the surplus.  Which then caused a bit of a budget problem when revenues dropped off in recent years.  And so on, and so on.  After all, the boom and bust must go on or it just wouldn’t be Nevada (or America), right?

Maybe.  But fiscal analyst and author of the NPRI report, Geoff Lawrence, at least, dares to dream otherwise, for which I think he deserves credit.

And so, apparently, does Ralston, who last night had Lawrence on Face to Face and then today penned a very read-worthy column on the proposal.

Make of that what you will, Dear Readers, and please drop a Comment below after you’ve read the report.

NSML Slams Suspension of UNLV Basketball Player for Postitive Test for Pot

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:48 am April 28th, 2010

I do think it is interesting to note the repeated use of the not-any-worse-and-maybe-better-than-alcohol angle in the pro-pot PR missives put out by Dave Schwartz:

From his release:

Suspension highlights the way society treats individuals who make the rational choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (NSML) is releasing the following statement in the wake of the announcement that University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) basketball player Matt Shaw has been suspended for one year — ending his career with the team — because of one positive test for marijuana. Shaw, fourth on the team in scoring last year, tested positive during a random drug test administered during the recent NCAA tournament.

“At the age of 22, Matt is an adult,” said Dave Schwartz, NSML campaign manager. “As an adult, he made a rational decision to use a substance less harmful than alcohol. Now, for this simple act, his career with the Runnin’ Rebels is over. We hope all Nevadans will stop to think about this for just one moment — and think specifically about the fact that players who drink alcohol to excess face no punishment, at least until they assault someone. It simply makes no sense. And for those who say, ‘He should have just followed the rules,’ we say, ‘Why do we have rules and laws that horribly punish people who choose to use marijuana instead of the more harmful substance, alcohol?’ It is time for a change.”

Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws is a ballot advocacy group formed in Nevada to support a 2012 ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in the state.

As you can see there, NSML’s other often-pushed angle is that the marijuana industry could be “revenue enhancing” at a time the state is desperate for cash.

Are these winning marketing strategies?

“It’ll never happen,” is the mantra most heard from the opposition.

In 2012, Nevada voters will decide if Never has arrived.

Sandoval’s “No Pledges” Pledge Not Worth the Paper It’s Not Written On?

By Elizabeth Crum | 1:37 pm April 14th, 2010

Oops!

Seems Brian Sandoval may have forgotten about a teeny-weeny pledge he once signed when running for office.

Sandoval this morning told journalists and bloggers on a Nevada News Bureau moderated call that he has always had a strict policy of not signing pledges of any kind.

But a search on the matter (don’t you just LOVE the internet?) shows that he did sign a pledge when running for AG:  one from the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage promising to never support domestic partnerships (said the Las Vegas Sun on 11/1/02).

But Sandoval now seems to support domestic partnerships — he told the Sun on 9/17/09 that he would have signed AB 283 — so…

???

I’ll post Sandoval’s response when it comes in.

Nevada Group Pushing New Tax on Car Miles to Fund Road Improvements

By Sean Whaley | 7:58 pm March 30th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Highway Users Coalition has announced its support for moving forward with a study on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a potential alternative to the current gas tax paid by motorists at the pump to fund road improvements and maintenance.

According to those involved in the study, the consequences of inaction could include the deterioration of roads and highways, increased vehicle wear and tear, increased congestion and accidents and longer commute times.

But others, including the ACLU of Nevada, are questioning the proposal because of privacy concerns. Others say any such change is premature and unnecessary.

The first phase of the VMT study is being funded by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and Regional Transportation Commissions in both Southern Nevada and Washoe County. NDOT and Washoe contributed $100,000 each. The Southern Nevada agency contributed $60,000 for a total of $260,000.

More than a dozen other states are also exploring the use of a VMT to pay for road construction.

In a statement released by the coalition, which was formed to “advance the rights of Nevada’s residents and visitors to travel on safe, reliable public roads,” the increasing use of hybrid and electric vehicles is reducing the amount of fuel tax that is collected because of their improved fuel efficiency.

“These vehicles contribute less to use the roads, despite creating the same wear and tear as gas powered vehicles,” the statement says. “This has created a further diminishing of a significant source of funds to build and maintain roads.”

The current funding for road construction, maintenance and operation comes primarily from fuel taxes, which have not been raised in Nevada since 1992.

In a VMT fee system, users would be charged based on the number of miles driven rather than paying in the form of fuel taxes. So rather than pay the 54 cents in fuel taxes per gallon at the pump charged now, vehicles would be assessed on the number of miles driven instead.

The study is being conducted with assistance from both the University of Nevada, Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“The evaluation and studying of the VMT fees as a potential funding source is needed for the Legislature and local elected officials to make a much needed decision on how to fund our future transportation needs,” the coalition said.

The first public meeting on the issue is set for later today in Reno. A meeting is also scheduled for April 29 in Las Vegas.

The idea of a VMT is not without controversy, however.

According to the Heritage Foundation, a Washington DC-based conservative policy and analysis organization, a VMT would be expensive to implement because every car would need to be fitted with a device that both records miles driven and transmits the information to a government database.

“This complicated system would cost millions and raise concerns of Big Brother watching our every movement,” the Heritage Foundation said in February 2009. “Americans don’t like paying the gas tax, but they are sure to be even more unhappy having to deal with the administrative nightmare the VMT promises.”

Paul Enos, chief executive officer of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, said there is no need to switch from the current gas tax just to try to capture revenue from hybrid and electric cars. A simpler solution would be to increase the existing fuel tax and index it so it grows over time, he said.

“The fuel tax has 20 to 30 years of life in it,” Enos said.

The current fuel tax is one of the cheapest revenues to collect, and switching to the VMT system would expand those administrative costs significantly, he said.

Enos said his industry would end up paying more in road taxes under the VMT plan, despite claims the proposal is intended to be revenue neutral.

Those pushing the VMT don’t talk about it much, but it would allow drivers to be taxed at higher rates for using freeways during congested drive times, Enos said.

“It is social engineering at its best; or worst,” he said. “They are trying to change public behavior.”

Scott Rawlins, deputy director for NDOT, said the agency is aware of the privacy concerns expressed by some members of the public. The entire study, which will take as much as 3.5 years to complete, will consider those concerns, he said.

A public report will likely be issued within the next three to four months as part of the Phase 1 effort, but the process will also require a 12-month pilot study using as many as 1,000 volunteers before the agency could consider moving forward with the VMT concept, Rawlins said.

The switch to a miles driven tax would not necessarily be excessively complicated, given the technology that exists today with cell phone GPS tracking availability, he said.

“It might not be that complicated,” he said. “Whether we use a device in a car or a cell phone or PDA, we don’t know the answer yet.”

But the ACLU of Nevada has expressed privacy concerns about the proposal.

“What we don’t want to see is the government creating an infrastructure for routine surveillance,” said Rebecca Gasca, ACLU of Nevada public advocate. “It is important that the owner of the car be the owner of the data.”

According to NDOT, overall vehicle fuel efficiency will increase to an average 35 miles a gallon by 2020, leading to a further reduction in fuel tax collections.

Because of inflation, fuel taxes now cover only about half the cost of road construction, maintenance and operations that they funded when fuel taxes were last increased in Nevada in 1992.

Dems Claim Victory on 5% Edu Cuts, $100K-ish Mining Deal Close

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:37 am February 25th, 2010

From Ralston just now:

In a caucus meeting that just concluded, Assembly Democrats, being bombarded by emails from teachers, told their reps up here that 5 percent cuts are a victory. But some of them think no cuts to education would be something to take home. Message to teachers: There is a billion-dollar deficit. I understand it was quite feisty. Will the teachers now shut up and praise the Assembly for cutting the reductions in half? Doubtful.

A couple of legislative leaders tell me the deal with mining is very close. Lawmakers have presented a deal that will add up to close to $100 million, although more than half is an adjusted forecast in net proceeds because of the price of gold that would be paid anyhow (although it will still help bridge the gap). The rest would be made up of fees and prepayments — but the industry has not yet signed off.