By SAM METZ AP/Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene on Monday for a four-month legislative session, in which they hope to tackle issues sparked by the coronavirus pandemic — none more urgent than balancing the state’s budget.
The pandemic’s devastating effect on the economy means lawmakers have less funding to divvy up. It’s left them only undesirable options: They raise taxes, make cuts or bank on a sooner-than-expected recovery yielding more tax revenue than projected.
Democrats enter the session with majorities in both legislative chambers despite losing seats in both in November.
But with only a three-seat advantage in the 21-member Senate and a 10-seat advantage in the 42-member Assembly, the Democrats lack supermajorities needed to raise taxes unilaterally under the state constitution. It requires two-thirds approval on tax proposals.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said that nothing was off the table, including proposals to raise taxes to prevent cutting state spending on priorities such as health care and education.
“We are going to have to largely focus on our budget, which is going to, you know, involve some tough cuts and we’re going to make sure that the cuts reflect our values proportionally, to the extent that we can,” the Las Vegas Democrat said.
Lawmakers have also asked legislative staff to prepare bills that address other hot-button issues — including elections, criminal justice reform and the state’s problem-plagued unemployment insurance system. Here are a few of the tax battles and legislative fights expected to attract attention and debate:
The Nevada Association of Counties and Nevada League of Cities are backing bills to change Nevada’s property tax system that were pre-filed before the start of the session. Nevada currently caps the amount property tax burdens can increase annually, even as property values increase. A proposal backed by counties would change the formula for capping property taxes to limit the cap from falling below 3%. The League of Cities’ bill would cap taxes on commercial properties at 8% and residential properties at 3%.
Lawmakers passed three resolutions last summer that propose raising taxes on mining businesses. The proposals divided Republicans from rural counties where mines employ much of the workforce and Democrats from the state’s urban centers who saw taxing the industry as a way to avoid budget cuts. The state Constitution requires mining businesses to be taxed at less than 5% of what are called net proceeds — profit minus deductions for certain costs. The proposals call for raising the cap or replacing it with a tax on gross proceeds, which would allow for fewer deductions. Even without two-thirds support, a simple majority could vote to put any of the three proposals on the ballot for voters to decide in an upcoming election.
Sales and Gambling Taxes
A powerful teacher’s union successfully gathered thousands of signatures to compel the Legislature to consider two tax proposals that would raise revenue to be used to fund K-12 schools. The Clark County Education Association’s first proposal would raise the portion of Nevada’s sales tax dedicated to school funding from 2.6% to 4.1%. That would push sales taxes in Las Vegas and Clark County to nearly 9.9%. The second proposal would increase the gambling tax rate from 6.75% to 9.75%. The proposals are likely to prompt battles with the tourism and hospitality industry, which argue higher taxes will jeopardize key sectors and dissuade tourists from visiting the state.
Nevada’s decision to mail all voters ballots ahead of the November 2020 election and the prolonged vote counting process vaulted the state into a national spotlight and prompted protests over the state’s election integrity. Questions about how to balance providing widespread access to voting while ensuring it is secure from interference are likely to reemerge in 2021. Republican lawmakers collectively filed at least 11 bill draft requests relating to elections. Assemblyman Jim Wheeler proposed a resolution to change the constitution to require the Legislature to canvass the vote and Assemblywoman Jill Dickman has proposed an “Election Accountability Act.”
All 50 states are scheduled this year to redraw congressional and state legislative districts based on the 2020 U.S. census. Nevada’s population grew an estimated 16% over the past decade and the redistricting process will likely upend the political map in urban areas that have experienced uneven growth. A decade ago, then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed the Democrat-controlled Legislature’s attempts to draw the maps. The disputes made their way from the Legislature to the courts, where a Carson City judge appointed a panel of experts to redraw the maps. But in 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it lacked jurisdiction to intervene in states’ redistricting processes. With complete control of state government, Democrats this time will likely face fewer challenges in getting their redrawn districts approved.
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.