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Nevada Assembly OKs bill to raise room tax

Bill passes 35-7, now goes to Senate

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009 | 2:26 p.m.

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The Nevada Assembly passed the initiative petition that will raise the room tax, sending it to Senate for a possible showdown next week.

The bill passed 35 to 7, with all seven votes against coming from Republicans. But the caucus split.

Seven Republicans voted for the bill, signaling a more pragmatic approach than was indicated late last year, when the hard-line conservative caucus took hold during a special session.

The bill's passage would be a victory for Speaker Barbara Buckley, who helped negotiate the compact between the teacher's union and Station, Harrah's and Wynn last year.

It would also help fill the budget hole, though perhaps not as much as Gov. Jim Gibbons thought.

Gibbons projected the room tax increase of as much as 3 percent, to a maximum of 13 percent, would raise $292 million over the biennium. Legislative staff analysis said it would raise $232 million.

It now goes to the state Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford remains uncommitted.

"Until I hear the testimony and hear all sides on the public policy, I don't have a firm decision one way or the other right now," he said. Seven Republicans voted for the bill, saying that while it was not palatable to raise taxes right now, voters in Clark and Washoe counties approved of it in an advisory question and that the money was needed to fill the budget hole.

"Constituents expect us to be at the table, and to help make the tough decisions," said Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno.

"We hope this is a bargaining chip when other taxes come up," said Assistant Minority Leader Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson.

Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, noted that while he didn't like the bill, his constituents voted for it and Gibbons had included it in his budget.

"The governor, known for his thrifty approach to taxes -- and here’s where I smile -- put it in his budget," Hardy said. Democrats began circulating a list of how constituents voted on an advisory question according to precincts.

After the vote, Assembly Democrats noted that the district of Assemblyman Chad Christensen, R-Las Vegas, had voted 68 percent in favor. Christensen voted against the bill.

Tom Grady, R-Yerington, stood up and said he didn't support the bill, but noted that he was working to undo some of the governor's cuts.

"I don’t like this bill at all, but I'm facing rural health clinics, three in my district, are ready to close," Grady said. "If we don't close that hole, we lose clinics. I will reluctantly support it."

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she was glad that Republicans were making a connection between taxes and services. She noted the three weeks of painful testimony at Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said he didn't support the bill because it would lead to fewer visits from visitors.

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