Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2017

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Business interests are lobbied over budget plans


Justin M. Bowen

Gov. Brian Sandoval addresses the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at a luncheon held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas.

Sandoval Speaks to Chamber

Gov. Brian Sandoval addresses the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Sun Coverage

As the state’s debate over taxes begins in earnest, Nevada’s business community is emerging as a potential ally, being fought over by those on both sides of the issue.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, who this week unveiled a budget that holds the line on taxes, made an early pitch for business support Wednesday at a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce luncheon by challenging Democrats to lay their alternate budget solutions on the table.

Democratic leaders have signaled support for some tax increases, instead of cuts only, to bridge the state’s billion-dollar-plus budget deficit, but have yet to outline any specific recommendations.

“My opposition to taxes is stated,” Sandoval told chamber members, and “we need more people like you involved in the debate.”

Sandoval’s distaste for taxes is no surprise; it was the centerpiece of his campaign. The reason for his laser-sharp focus on the topic Wednesday was lobbying. He knows he needs chamber members’ support to break down Democratic opposition.

Business interests and legislative lobbyists haven’t yet taken a clear stance on taxes. They are still sifting through Sandoval’s proposed cuts and deciding which is a worse poison — stripped services or tax hikes.

“Everybody is trying to keep an open mind,” said Josh Griffin, a business lobbyist and former state assemblyman. “I don’t hear a lot of strident thoughts one way or another. Nobody is particularly excited about a big tax increase, but more specifics are needed. What do the cuts mean?”

While the business community typically supports holding the line on taxes, its backing of Sandoval’s budget plan is not a foregone conclusion.

Businesses have an economic interest in seeing Nevada schools thrive, an outcome some say Sandoval’s budget can’t accomplish. And although it’s unlikely gaming or mining would invite or accept new taxes, small-business owners and chamber members have signalled a willingness to at least see the issue debated.

For example, Tray Abney, government relations director for the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, recently floated the idea that members might support a tax increase if legislators make significant spending reforms, such as ending collective-bargaining rights for local government employees or cutting retirement and health benefits for government workers. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce supported tax increases in 2009 after legislators made similar — although not significant — concessions.

For their part, Democrats hope to pull the support of the business community to their side. But so far they are taking a more behind-the-scenes approach.

Instead of giving speeches to the business community, they are relying on tales of woe from education advocates and recipients of social services.

On Saturday, a coalition of teachers, students, service providers and labor groups will rally against service cuts and in support of tax increases before legislative town-hall meetings in Reno and Las Vegas. The town halls are being hosted by Democratic legislators.

Democratic Assembly Speaker John Oceguera said his caucus plans to highlight the real effects of the governor’s budget cuts for constituents and make real strides in efforts to consolidate and diversify.

“If we can show them all those things, that makes the case that if there’s a gap, we need to look at revenue,” Oceguera said.

It may not be enough. Carson City insiders say Sandoval is rapidly locking in Republican support for his proposals, and Democrats don’t have enough votes to fight him alone.

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