Monday, Jan. 2, 2006 | 7:12 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- When Gov. Kenny Guinn leaves office a year from now and turns over the reins to the next governor, the state should be in good shape financially.
Guinn said taxes shouldn't have to be raised for several years, and plans to have a "skeleton" budget for presentation to the 2007 Legislature for the next governor.
"I will have it all laid out as if I was building the budget for presentation," said Guinn, who will leave office after eight years. "He or she (the next governor) can make changes" in the priorities, he noted.
No matter what the next governor's priorities are, or what's raised in the 2006 campaign, many of the same issues will be waiting for the governor and the Legislature in 2007, such as affordable housing, water, construction of more highways to relieve congestion and keeping up with the population growth.
Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, believes the state is over-collecting on taxes. He feels the extra money coming into the state should go to cover shortfalls in such things as building and shoring up deficiencies. Added funds should not go into salaries or new programs. And when the state has caught up with the shortfalls, then the tax rates could be racketed back, says Townsend.
He said the $100-a-year state business license fee is imposed on such things as trusts. As a way to keep track of the growing number of businesses, Townsend said the fee could be imposed every five years instead of annually. That will require more research, he said.
The 2005 Legislature capped the property tax for homeowners at a 3 percent increase and 8 percent for business. Guinn said he would like to see that continue.
Sen. Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said there should be some changes in the property tax cap. For instance, those who own apartment houses now pay the 8 percent, he said. "We can't have rental units at 8 percent," Schneider said. "The landlords are forced to pass it on to tenants."
The 2005 Legislature reduced from 0.65 percent to 0.63 percent the tax businesses pay on wages of employees. But the reduction expires June 30, 2007. Guinn said the Legislature used "one shot" money to finance that plan and it will have to decide whether to make it permanent.
There are two proposed constitutional tax limit amendments, now seeking signatures, which could be on the 2006 general election ballot. They would have to pass both in 2006 and 2008. But the 2007 Legislature may take some type of action, such as offering an alternative.
One plan by Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, would limit expenditures to inflation plus population growth. Schneider says expenses in some cases grow four to five times as fast as population and inflation.
"These don't work," Schneider said, referring to the plans by Beers and Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, R-Reno. Angle wants to limit the property tax that can be collected.
The governor said in some cases, expenses may grow 15-18 percent, outstripping the rate of inflation and the growth.
Schneider and Townsend say transportation is a major issue facing the state.
"We are going to be $4 billion short over the next 10 years for the state's highway (construction) fund," Townsend said. "People are not going to want to hear about a new tax or a (vehicle) registration fee increase." He said there has to be a lot of discussion about how to pay for these needs.
Schneider said there is "almost gridlock in Las Vegas now." For instance, he said the road from Las Vegas to Pahrump needs tens of millions of dollars for improvements. "There have been three to four people killed in the last month. We can't keep killing people."
In the next 15 years, Schneider said Clark County's population will swell to 3 million residents. "It's like L.A. east," he said.
Guinn said the state Transportation Department will have to issue more bonds in the future for construction rather than paying cash for the projects -- costs are rising 20 to 30 percent a year for some materials.
McCarran International Airport is overcrowded now, says Schneider. Commercial flights will have to be moved to the proposed Ivanpah Airport south of Las Vegas. And a bullet train between the two airports would be needed to move the tourists, he said.
Townsend said the area north of Reno is growing and the roads are crowded. That must be dealt with.
Both Guinn and Schneider believe that affordable housing for schoolteachers in Las Vegas will be on the agenda for the 2007 Legislature. The governor said the main reason teachers leave Las Vegas is they can't find an affordable place to live.
Schneider said, "We've blown right past affordable housing. None is available. Schoolteachers can't buy a house any more."
Guinn's state Housing Division submitted a proposal in April 2005 to the Interior Department to release federal land in Las Vegas on which to build affordable housing and keep the prices down.
Guinn said Friday that these applications take time for the federal government to process but he said there is unified support for the plan. "You have to learn to be patient" when dealing with the federal government, he said.
Also an issue will be funding the public schools and the university system, which take more than 54 percent of the state's general fund budget. There will be demands for more money for education.
Townsend said Washoe County schools alone need $1 billion for school construction.
The governor said the state should give the university system more seed money to attract private grants to grow and foster new programs.
Water or the lack of it will be a hot topic in the 2007 Legislature that opens in February. Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, said there are some interim legislative studies on the water issues that are important to Las Vegas, Reno and the rural counties.
Water was an issue in the 2005 Legislature, as lawmakers voted to give money to the rural counties to help them study water issues.
Water will continue to be an issue as the Southern Nevada Water Authority has plans to take water from rural Nevada to provide for Clark County's future growth.
Cy Ryan can be reached at (775) 687-5032 or at [email protected]