Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Leader still wants broad tax (5-5-2009)
- Assembly speaker post up for grabs in 2011 (5-3-2009)
- State falls $550 million short in funding governor's budget (5-1-2009)
- Could speaker be the next governor? (7-8-2008)
The chancellor of Nevada’s university system sharply criticized Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley on Tuesday for not embracing a corporate income tax, which he said would raise needed funding and broaden the state’s tax base to include out-of-state corporations that pay comparatively little.
“I’m very disappointed in Barbara Buckley,” said Jim Rogers, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.
Rogers said Buckley’s approach, which includes smaller increases of existing taxes combined with significant spending cuts, is being driven by politics.
“This is a feeling on my part, I have no direct evidence of this, but I have this feeling that she’s let her governor’s campaign become too involved,” said Rogers, a multimillionaire businessman who owns several television stations in the Southwest.
“I was very surprised that she came out so early against (the corporate income tax), and that seems to me to be a political move rather than a fiscal move,” Rogers said.
Buckley, a Las Vegas Democrat, has indicated she will run for the Democratic nomination for governor.
She dismissed the complaint that she is allowing politics to trump policy. “I’m not going to respond to accusations,” she said. “I’m completely focused on the job I have right now. Anyone who knows me knows I fight for what I believe in, no matter what job I have.”
The rift comes at an inopportune time for Buckley as she attempts to solve the state’s fiscal crisis.
Last week the state’s official fiscal forecaster, as well as the budget director, said legislators would have to find $900 million just to fund Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget, which has been viewed as draconian and unworkable by legislators in both parties. Although the deficit will be offset somewhat by federal stimulus dollars, the budget hole will still require a painful mixture of spending cuts and tax increases.
Buckley told the Las Vegas Sun on April 14 that she would not support a corporate income tax, one of the frequently mentioned ways to broaden the tax base. Asked whether she supports a corporate income tax, she responded: “No.”
“In conversations with business leaders and lawmakers, there doesn’t seem to be much support for that,” she said.
Tuesday, after being read what Rogers said earlier in the day about her lack of support for the tax, Buckley replied: “That’s not what he told me five minutes ago.”
The Las Vegas Sun then called Rogers again. Told of Buckley’s remark, he paraphrased their conversation:
Rogers: I want to do whatever I can to help. I empathize with the dilemma you’re facing. But I am distressed you wouldn’t back the corporate tax.
Buckley: Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.
Rogers said Buckley went on to say she would support a broad-based business tax in some form, “But I guess I didn’t understand all the subtleties of what she was saying,” he said.
Buckley told the Sun that Nevada does need to broaden its tax base, but shouldn’t use “imported ideas from other states. Nevada needs to take a Nevada approach for a broad-based tax system.”
She said the current modified business tax, which taxes businesses on payroll, is unfair. “It taxes the smallest businesses at the same rate as the largest,” she explained. “I hope any revenue we consider that broadens the base provides protections for the state’s smallest businesses.”
She wouldn’t say how she would broaden the tax base, but confirmed she did not support a corporate income tax like those in surrounding states and proposed by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.
Buckley said a Nevada constitutional prohibition on the personal income tax could affect whether the state could institute a corporate income tax.
However, the constitution specifically says that while no income tax can be placed on individuals, taxes “can be levied upon the income and revenue of any business in whatever form it may be conducted for profit in the state.”
In the weeks before the legislative session began in February, a corporate income tax had some support in the business community, especially the mining and gaming industries, because it could be structured to tax only profitable companies. Also, the broader tax base of a corporate income levy might prevent legislators from singling out industries, as happens nearly every session to gaming and has happened to mining this session because of the soaring price of gold.
In December, Rogers had expressed optimism that legislators would OK a plan that reduced tax abatements and established a tax on corporate profits.
“I can’t say I’ve gotten commitments, because you don’t get that sort of a statement from a legislator,” he said at the time. “But what you get from them is a strong indicator that they would support that.”
Buckley is also beginning to face questions from her ideological left. When she came out against the corporate income tax, Gibbons, the first-term Republican and potential Buckley opponent in the governor’s race, put out a tongue-in-cheek statement congratulating her.
Hugh Jackson, the state’s most widely read liberal blogger who has also done research for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, criticized Democrats in the Legislature as overly concerned with winning future elections and not focused on solving problems with progressive solutions. “But it is by no means clear what, if anything, Nevada Democrats would actually do with enhanced and enduring power over state government, or why Democratic voters should be particularly tantalized at the prospect,” he wrote.
In other quarters, however, Buckley wins praise. Greg Brown, president of the UNLV chapter of the Faculty Alliance, said he was satisfied that legislators — especially Buckley — had listened to their concerns about deep cuts in employee benefits, as the governor proposed.
Coolican and Hsu reported from Las Vegas.