Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2015

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Damon Political Report

Labor leader threatens lawmakers with ballot initiative on taxes

Sun Coverage

Frustrated with the stalemate over taxes, union leader Danny Thompson delivered his most explicit threat yet during a legislative hearing today: pass taxes or we’ll go to the ballot.

Frustrated with the stalemate over spending reforms, chamber leader Hugh Anderson delivered his own threat in the same hearing: “Without the reform, we cannot support any tax bill, no matter how soundly conceived.”

As the Legislature enters its waning days, the major players in the tax debate have all staked out familiar positions that reflect the ongoing stalemate between Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the budget debate.

Labor wants a tax increase to prevent further salary and benefit cuts to state workers.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce sees taxes as its only leverage over the Democratic majority to exact changes to collective bargaining and public employee benefits.

Gaming and mining are happy to support a broad-based business tax as long as the Legislature doesn’t look to solve its revenue problems through industry-specific taxes. And they don’t really see a need to join the spending reforms fight.

Each played a part in today’s hearing on the 0.8 percent margin tax Democrats want to assess on business revenue. And while the testimony at times reached a fever pitch, consensus failed to develop.

“We are going to do an initiative and you’re not going to like it,” Thompson warned lawmakers, threatening to take the tax increase straight to the voters.

He reminded them of his years long effort to convince the Legislature to increase the minimum wage, demands that went unheeded by lawmakers.

“I told you I was going to go and put it in the constitution and today the minimum wage is in the constitution,” he said. “And there are problems with it.”

Thompson conceded that initiative petition is a poor way to craft public policy.

That earned a quick retort from Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, who questioned the wisdom to pursue an easier route even though it's flawed.

“You say it’s not the best way to do things but you’re going to do it anyway,” McGinness said. “If we did that you’d call us the worst legislator of the year.”

Lobbyists with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, who Democrats hope they can rely on to help swing at least five Republican votes their way on taxes, testified they have not taken a position in favor of the margin or services tax proposed by Democrats.

And they likely won’t unless significant reforms are made.

“We need to address the fact that the issue of taxes goes hand in hand with reform,” chamber lobbyist Hugh Anderson testified. “Without the reform we cannot support any bill no matter how soundly conceived.”

Lobbyists with the mining and gaming industries testified in favor of the margin tax.

Billy Vassiliadis, lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, who earlier asked lawmakers to blunt the education cuts proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, said it would be disingenuous of the industry not to support the revenue needed to do it.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, also extracted promises from gaming and mining lobbyists to support the extension of the 2009 tax increases.

Horsford argued that if those taxes are allowed to expire the gaming industry would see a $50 million tax cut and mining would see a $9 million tax cut.

“It’s not your intention to get a $9 million tax cut?” Horsford asked mining lobbyist Tim Crowley.

“No,” Crowley answered. “It makes sense that those taxes continue.”

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