Las Vegas Sun

March 30, 2017

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Green’ at what price to Nevadans?

The casino companies and the developers get tax breaks worth at least $500 million and their buildings come with lower power and water bills. Nevada citizens get some environmentally friendly buildings.

Fair trade?

Of course it is, say gaming and development companies.

But others, including local governments that will have less revenue available because of the "green" tax breaks, consider that to be a self-serving analysis by the tax cuts' beneficiaries.

Only now are the effects being realized from the green tax breaks passed by the Legislature in 2005 and altered earlier this year.

Local governments say they won't be able to add as many police officers, firefighters and teachers as they would have without the law.

There will be less money for new roads and parks and to take care of the mentally ill.

"It's going to be hard to do what we thought we were going to do over the next 15 years," Clark County Chairman Rory Reid said.

Metro Police are projected to not see at least $60 million over the next 15 years because of the legislation, according to a study by the research firm Applied Analysis.

"It is going to affect some of the growth potential we're going to see," said Karen Keller, Metro's executive director of finance.

The developers and gaming companies that are saving this money - MGM Mirage's $7.5 billion CityCenter leads with $218million in projected tax savings - insist, not surprisingly, that Nevada's citizens are getting a good shake.

"Any way we can promote more responsible development is a good thing for everybody," said Rob Stillwell, spokesman for Boyd Gaming.

Boyd's megaresort Echelon will get tax breaks worth $156 million - $81 million in sales tax breaks over the next four years, $75 million in property tax savings during the first 10 years that the project is open.

Stillwell said the tax incentives have the company shooting for a "silver" building designation under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.

"With or without that building standard, we were committed to building in a responsible manner," Stillwell said. "LEED certification has more to do with the record keeping that has to take place, that we probably wouldn't have been involved in had we not been seeking the certification."

Les Lo Baugh, who has served as general counsel and a lobbyist for a number of projects including Fontainebleau Las Vegas and Harrah's, said green buildings bring a number of benefits.

Because the developments will require less power, new power plants won't be needed as soon. So everyone's power bill won't rise as quickly, he said.

In general, the new buildings are looking at achieving 30 percent or more energy efficiency, Lo Baugh said. They also will be more water efficient.

He pointed out that before this legislation, there were virtually no LEED buildings in Nevada.

"The state has been extremely effective doing what they wanted to do," he said. "It was a decision by state government, and I assume they gave consideration to the pros and cons from a policy standpoint, of doing what they're going to do."

The gaming companies have allies in some environmentalists.

"This is one of the most effective incentives for getting builders to engage in green buildings in the country," said Stephen Wiel, the Nevada representative for Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, which promotes energy efficient policies.

He did say, though, that whether the state has given away too much remains a valid question.

"The challenge is to find the right balance between rewards for general builders and the benefit to the public," he said.

"I'm assuming there's still enough money in the state to direct to education, fire, police," he said. "In a longer term view, see that it's the right direction for the society to move, to end up in wiser energy policy."

Of course, all the savings developers are projected to receive could increase. Gaming companies still are lobbying the state Department of Taxation so more projects can qualify for more generous tax breaks.

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