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August 5, 2015

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Rory Reid accuses Brian Sandoval of passing the buck on tax increases

DISTINCTION DRAWN

Brian Sandoval’s campaign was quick to note that Rory Reid also supports home rule, but Reid made a point of distinguishing between his position and Sandoval’s, saying he opposes shifting responsibility for state services to municipalities.
Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

After Brian Sandoval pulled back the curtain this week on how he might balance the state budget as governor, his Democratic challenger, Rory Reid, saw an opening.

Reid criticized Sandoval on Tuesday for saying he supports giving local governments the power to raise taxes. Such a plan, Reid said, amounts to abdicating his leadership responsibilities.

“If he thinks new revenue is necessary, he needs to stand up and tell us what taxes he wants to raise,” Reid said in an interview.

Reid speculated that Sandoval wants to raise property or sales taxes — the primary sources of revenue for local government — “just to protect the clients of the people who recruited him to run.” (Sandoval has acknowledged that influential corporate lobbyists approached him to leave his lifetime appointment to the federal bench and run for governor.)

Reid, who released a budget plan in late August, has repeatedly criticized Sandoval for not doing the same to the point that he appeared frustrated by his opponent’s unwillingness to engage on the issue. Sandoval’s remarks on home rule Tuesday provided a glimpse at how he might balance the state budget — projected to be $3 billion in the hole — while also keeping his promise not to raise taxes.

Sandoval’s campaign shot back, accusing Reid of hypocrisy.

“Rory Reid is grasping at straws,” Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said. “Rory supports home rule and giving local governments the ability to raise revenues.”

And just because Sandoval supports giving local governments the authority to raise taxes, doesn’t mean the local governments would do so, she said.

Reid, himself employed by one of Nevada’s entrenched lobbying firms, did in fact tell the Las Vegas Sun in August that he supports giving local governments the ability to raise taxes.

Reid said Tuesday that he still favors home rule, but he opposes shifting responsibility for state services to local municipalities. His plan to balance the state budget relies on finding additional revenue from an improved economy and broad promises to cut waste and inefficiency in state government.

“I’m talking about a collaborative working relationship between county and state,” Reid said. “Cities can’t do anything without state permission.”

Sandoval told the Las Vegas Sun on Monday that he supports home rule — giving cities and counties the ability to raise taxes and make more fiscal decisions without legislative approval. He said local governments are closer to the electorate and therefore more accountable to taxpayers.

State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, expressed disbelief at Sandoval’s statements, reflecting frustration that someone who might be the next governor has said so little about the budget. “After months of not offering a plan for how he would provide a balanced budget for the state, or fund schools, the idea has been floated to allow local governments to raise taxes?”

While local governments primarily rely on property and sales tax to fund services, the Legislature could, theoretically, pass along authority to tax a variety of things.

“The Legislature could conceivably give counties the power to do everything the Legislature has a right to do themselves,” said Marvin Leavitt, an expert on Nevada local government finances and retired lobbyist. He added that counties and cities are ill-equipped to collect such taxes so it would be difficult to implement.

The simplest tax increase to administer would be property taxes because the mechanism to collect it is in place.

But Leavitt noted, “People dislike property taxes more than anything else. Long run, not sure what you accomplish politically besides sending responsibilities to local government.”

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