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October 22, 2016

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Democrats circle the wagons against ‘Family Fun Tax’ foes



Democratic leaders, from left, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, answer media questions following Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State address at the Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013.

Democratic lawmakers showed little restraint when opponents of Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick’s admissions tax took to the microphone Tuesday to beg for exemptions to the 8 percent levy she wants to assess on nearly all forms of recreation.

In the first public hearing on Assembly Bill 498 — which would impose an 8 percent tax on tickets and memberships to movies, concerts, nightclubs, fitness centers and other entertainment activities — Assembly Democrats lambasted their critics.

Their arguments were described as “ridiculous.” Their tactics were described as bullying. And their motives were described as suspect.

“Their comments were ridiculous,” Kirkpatrick said of a flood of emails sparked by an association of golf clubs fighting the tax. “I almost felt like I was at a grade school bully fight. I didn’t think they were fair.”

When the manager of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Chris Powell, testified that the tax would hit working families the hardest and would deter attendance at its NASCAR event, Assembly Majority Leader William Horne laid into him.

“Now it’s getting ridiculous,” Horne said. “It seems like you’re really concerned about the spectator that comes to see your sport, but in fact, it still comes down to your bottom line.”

Assemblywoman Theresa Benitez-Thompson demanded that Powell and the company that produces the massive Electric Daisy Carnival music festival provide hard facts detailing how similar taxes in other states have hurt their events.

“Convince me as a legislator that if the sky really is going to fall in Nevada if we enact this tax that exists in other places, paint me that picture and put it in black and white,” she said. “Start talking in terms of numbers.”

As for those who would threaten to take their event out of state in response to a new tax: “I've got a hotline to U-Haul and I’m happy to help them if that's the attitude,” Kirkpatrick said.

It was a unified front in support of Kirkpatrick who has experienced an avalanche of angry opposition since she released her proposal for a Nevada Entertainment and Admissions Tax.

Only four people — a nightclubs lobbyist, the retail association, the Nevada Taxpayer Association and the AFL-CIO — testified in favor of the bill.

Ten people showed up in person to testify against it, but scores of opponents sent emails and letters lambasting the tax.

Even Kirkpatrick’s own constituents came out against it. Of the 10 she talked to, two supported her effort and eight opposed it.

Kirkpatrick’s tax would replace the live entertainment tax — a complicated levy with a bifurcated rate and a list of exemptions. Kirkpatrick believes it’s sound policy to cast a wide net, eliminating most exemptions in favor of keeping a low rate.

But even her bill includes some exemptions, including concerts held at swimming pools on the Strip, venues smaller than 50 seats and 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organizations.

In doing so, she’s seeking to capture a number of politically unpalatable activities that haven’t been taxed before: Bowling, movies, golf.

Her bill also has sparked a strong lobbying effort on behalf of those currently exempt from the live entertainment tax, chiefly the Electric Daisy Carnival, Burning Man and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But while her fellow Democrats lined up a public show of support for Kirkpatrick, her bill won’t necessarily win united support from even her own party if it makes it to a vote in its current form.

Assemblywoman Dina Neal said she is struggling with the balance between getting rid of loopholes for everyone and implementing a tax on activities enjoyed by her constituents.

“I just want to be clear because I’m passing legislation, or I’m considering passing legislation, that directly affects me,” she said.

Sen. Mo Denis has expressed concerns about all of the activities included, as has Sen. Kelvin Atkinson.

Republicans have already declared the tax dead on arrival, ridiculing it as a “Family Fun Tax.”

Kirkpatrick said she is willing to reconsider who is included in the tax, but reiterated that she wants to keep a broad base in order to keep the rate low. If exemptions are granted, the rate would have to go up, she said.

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