Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2014

Currently: 59° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

MEMO FROM CARSON CITY:

What the Legislature doesn’t know

Sun coverage

Republicans and Democrats agree that Nevada’s children need a better education system.

But Gov. Brian Sandoval has said time and again that he won’t raise taxes beyond his $6.5 billion budget, making it difficult to actually get the money that would pay for programs for Nevada’s kids.

One possible solution to this seemingly intractable problem lies with reclaiming the money the state spent before Sandoval even put that $6.5 billion budget together.

That is, the Legislature could look at tax expenditures — the money the state could spend but chooses to give away in the form of exemptions, tax breaks and abatements.

“All the money that is not collected because of the tax expenditures can’t be used for other public spending items, whether it be education or Medicaid or public safety,” said Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director of policy for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank.

But Nevada is one of the few states that doesn’t produce a comprehensive report detailing who gets state tax exemptions and tax breaks, how much those are worth and what the recipients of the break or exemption produce in the form of jobs or more economic activity.

“You need to know what’s working and not working,” said Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association.

The governor’s budget methodically details state spending in a 3,414 page document; a similar document charting exemptions, breaks and other “tax expenditures” doesn’t exist.

If the Legislature had such a report, legislators could comprehensively review exemptions and breaks to cut ineffective incentives, reduce wasteful spending and more transparently account for their taxpayers’ dollars.

“You could point to how well or how poorly things are working and then kind of make your case from there,” Lawrence said. “I think a regular reporting requirement would be tremendously helpful in allowing policymakers, lawmakers and local officials to see how effectively this money is being used.”

For instance, the governor’s budget provides $10 million per year to expand full-day kindergarten programs at elementary schools.

The state Education Department told legislators this month that it estimates the money could pay for 181 teachers and full-day kindergarten programs at 47 schools, 36 of which would be in Clark County.

Using that math, a couple of million dollars saved by eliminating a tax break or exemption could pay for full-day kindergarten programs at seven more schools in Clark County.

Likewise, a business receiving a couple of million dollars in tax breaks, exemptions or abatements could create dozens of jobs.

“It’s the concept that we’re constantly looking at — the cost-benefit analysis,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The Legislature last studied tax breaks in 2009 in a comprehensive report that looked at hundreds of businesses and nonprofits that received tax exemptions and abatements.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, sponsored a bill in 2011 that would measure the amount of money given in exemptions, breaks and abatements as well as the number of taxpayers benefiting from them and the money the state could collect if the Legislature repealed them.

But the bill died because it cost money to produce the report. Now the bill is back, and Kirkpatrick said it should pass.

“This time, I’m succeeding,” she said.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 1 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. From the first day I set foot in Nevada, the one thing was abundantly clear---how folks operate in this state noticeably stood out: plead not knowing about it. Plead ignorance. Afterall, if you don't know, how can people hold you accountable! Right? AND, you can do this, because you can!

    God bless you, Andrew Doughman, as it takes real guts to come right out and publish what you have, as with, "That is, the Legislature could look at tax expenditures -- the money the state could spend but chooses to give away in the form of exemptions, tax breaks and abatements."

    Also noting, "But Nevada is one of the few states that doesn't produce a comprehensive report detailing who gets state tax exemptions and tax breaks, how much those are worth and what the recipients of the break or exemption produce in the form of jobs or more economic activity."

    Pleading ignorance as with the case of old school, old guard Lawmakers, may mean that NO one brings the subject up. Perhaps, there is a secret pact that some things simply are NOT discussed, ever, with Nevada Lawmakers, and this particular gem, must be the gold standard of them all. Imagine what meaningful work and effective legislation could take place in light of such FACTS!

    That has more than likely applied to OLD SCHOOL LAWMAKERS. But now, we have a breath of fresh air, a fair, proactive, thinking out of the box leader, changing the way Nevada operates: Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick. She is blazing a trail full-throttle towards changing what has been making Nevada sick, towards a more healthy way to behave and be on a path of healing, instead of this chronic and deadly road of death for the last century in Nevada politics.

    Nevadans can take comfort in knowing the likes of Kirkpatrick are forging the way out of antiquated thinking into to the present, and taking steps towards being in the present with dealing what is on the political plate. Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star