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October 21, 2021

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It’s done: Lawmakers send stadium funding deal to governor for final OK

Raiders Stadium Rendering

Courtesy of MANICA Architechture

An artist’s illustration of a stadium on Russell Road and Las Vegas Boulevard was revealed during a Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee meeting at UNLV Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.

CARSON CITY — After all the pomp and circumstance of the week, protracted discussions and the pressure of looming elections, the Nevada Legislature today approved a $1.17 billion tax increase to fund construction of an NFL stadium and the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

It was the finale of a weeklong saga that played out on Carson City’s stage, where top casino executives made their cameos, labor leaders implored legislators to bring back jobs and opponents decried the hefty public price tag.

The Assembly spent almost all of Thursday picking through the nuances of the stadium and convention center bill, discussions that continued until the early hours this morning.

For all the legislators scurrying back and forth counting final votes and lobbyists huddled in the hallways in anticipation, the vote didn’t happen as expected late Thursday night.

Instead, the Assembly, quickly and with no discussion, voted 28-13 this morning to approve the bill.

One vote less and the bill would have failed, because a two-thirds majority is needed to approve any increases in taxes.

Opposition to the bill came from both the most conservative and most progressive ends of the Assembly, though Democrats made up a larger share of the “no” vote.

Democrats Elliot Anderson, Nelson Araujo, Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Maggie Carlton, Olivia Diaz, Amber Joiner, Dina Neal, Mike Sprinkle and Heidi Swank all opposed the bill, along with their Republican colleagues Ira Hansen, James Oscarson, Shelly Shelton and Robin Titus.

The rest voted yes, with Democratic Assemblywoman Stephanie Smith, thought to be another “no,” absent for the vote.

The bill was quickly shipped over to the Senate, which approved the Assembly’s amendments in a unanimous vote.

The Senate had approved the full bill earlier in the week, in a 16-5 vote taken just before sundown Tuesday. Democrats Ruben Kihuen, Julia Ratti and Tick Segerblom and Republicans Pete Goicoechea and Don Gustavson voted in opposition.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, a Republican, said he thought there was “great leadership” in both houses during the session. Roberson thanked Minority Leader Aaron Ford for “being such a gentleman” in his final remarks on the Senate floor.

But Roberson said in an interview that he was disappointed in many of the Assembly Democrats for voting “no” on the bill.

“For Assembly Democrats to turn their backs on all of those people who are out of work and need jobs, it’s disappointing,” Roberson said.

Multiple dissenting Assembly members, however, expressed dismay in the special session process and doubt that the public would reap significant long-term benefits from the stadium project.

Elliot Anderson, the first to speak after the Assembly voted, objected to several moments this week — lawmakers clapping after pro-stadium presentations Monday, the Senate approving a resolution to waive its ethical provisions Tuesday and a last-minute report from the Nevada Department of Transportation about necessary roadway improvements for the stadium project.

“We put on this show and it looks horrible,” he said. “It just continues to give people no faith in us as policymakers ... I think a lot of us are going to consider what our next steps are after this process.”

As she listened to testimony this week, Neal said she kept asking herself, “Does this serve the general welfare of the public?”

She ultimately voted no.

Sprinkle, meanwhile, said he wrestled with what he would tell parents of a child with autism yearning for services. He feared having to say, “‘I’m sorry, we just don’t have the money,’” Sprinkle said.

Despite the naysayers, Assembly members in support of the project stuck to their conviction that these projects will yield statewide benefits, especially for residents seeking work.

Democratic Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, who voted in favor of the legislation, delivered an emotional speech about fellow laborers he knows who have killed themselves because of unemployment.

These projects, Carrillo said, will give Nevada laborers much-needed employment stability.

“When we hit that button green or red, we’re changing lives,” Carrillo said.

And he’s not afraid of any backlash for his “yes” vote. “If I don’t get elected, guess what? I get my life back.”

All that’s left now is for the bill to receive Gov. Brian Sandoval’s approval, expected to happen at a bill-signing ceremony in Las Vegas on Monday.

In a statement, Sandoval lauded legislators for their “thoughtful deliberations” and “tough questions.”

“It is truly exciting to see our gaming industry, labor unions and small businesses come together with broad support for these important projects,” Sandoval said.

The bill authorizes a $750 million public contribution toward building a 65,000-seat NFL stadium and another $420 million to expand and renovate the Las Vegas Convention Center. Both projects will be made possible through an increase in the county’s hotel room tax rate, 0.88 and 0.5 percentage points, respectively.

It takes the county’s room tax from 12 percent to 13.38 percent. Orlando, a city with which Las Vegas competes for convention business, has a 12.5 percent room tax.

Back in January, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., proposed building an NFL stadium. He has promised $650 million toward the $1.9 billion project.

The Oakland Raiders, whose owner has pledged to move to Las Vegas if a stadium is built, have committed another $500 million toward the project. That relocation, however, requires a three-fourths vote of approval from NFL owners at their January meeting.

The next step for the project’s developers is presenting the stadium proposal at the NFL owners’ fall meeting on Oct. 18.

Sands executive Andy Abboud said he believes the “whole mood changes” with regard to the stadium project, now that it’s secured legislative approval.

“Now that it’s done, I think even the ‘no’ people will consolidate behind the stadium,” Abboud said. “They’re excited about it. They should feel good about it. I think the tough times are over.”

He said he was “pleased” by the bipartisan support the stadium bill received. “At the end of the day, I don’t think it could’ve been done if we didn’t demonstrate that,” Abboud said.

In a statement, Raiders owner Mark Davis thanked the governor and Legislature. “All parties have worked extremely hard to develop and approve this tremendous stadium project that will serve as a proud new home for the entire Raider Nation,” Davis said.

But Oakland won’t be giving up the Raiders without a fight. The city’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, promised to continue looking for options that would keep the team in Oakland, regardless of Nevada lawmakers’ decision.

“Like so many of the team’s diehard fans, I believe the Raiders and Oakland have a shared identity and destiny, and keeping the team in Oakland where they were born and raised has immeasurable value to the fans, the team, the league and the city,” Schaaf said in a statement.

The Legislature’s actions also didn’t sit well with some members of the public.

Some people raised concerns over the transparency of the process, particularly after some of the top names in the gaming industry, labor leaders and other business interests testified for three hours before a joint gathering of the two legislative bodies on Monday.

Nevadans for the Common Good, a grassroots organization that has advocated against the stadium deal, called the Assembly’s vote a “sad day for Nevada.”

The organization said the late-Thursday revelation of a traffic study underscored the “flawed and rushed nature of this process.”

The report, commissioned by NDOT, outlined $889 million worth of already-planned projects the agency would need to fast track as part of the stadium project.

Several legislators were frustrated that the report wasn’t made public until Thursday, even though it was dated Oct. 4. Even though the stadium will have no financial impact on NDOT, some lawmakers said the report would’ve been useful information to have when deliberating.

Earlier Thursday, both houses of the Legislature approved a bill that allows the Clark County Commission to raise the sales tax to bolster the number of police officers in Southern Nevada.

The Assembly, which is where the measure began, passed in a 35-7 vote. Dissenting Assembly members included Democrats Maggie Carlton, Olivia Diaz, Stephanie Smith and Heidi Swank and Republicans Ira Hansen, Shelly Shelton and Robin Titus.

Most of the “no” voters questioned the urgency of addressing the police funding now versus during the regular legislative session, where it could be more fully examined.

Diaz, who clarified that she’s not against hiring more officers, said she disagreed with the funding source, which she termed a regressive tax that could harm lower-income residents.

“I can’t continue to kick this can down the road,” she said.

In the end, the lawmakers, buoyed by law enforcement officials’ pleas to boost police funding or risk jeopardizing public safety, won out. The Senate unanimously approved the bill after just two and a half hours of presentations and discussion.

The Clark County Crime Prevention Act of 2016, as it’s called, is enabling legislation, meaning it needs approval by a simple majority of county commissioners before it can be enacted. If it is approved, the sales tax rate would increase by a 0.1 percent, which police officials said would generate an additional $39.2 million in yearly tax revenue.

That new money would be distributed in two ways simultaneously: About $7.9 million would go toward hiring 66 officers in the resort corridor — the areas around the Strip and downtown Las Vegas. The other $31.3 million would allow local police agencies to hire a combined 245 officers.

The 30th special session in Nevada’s history also marked some outgoing lawmakers’ final legislative votes. Longtime Assemblyman Harvey Munford, who is being termed out this year, was among those people.

He urged his colleagues to not let this vote derail their working relationships in the future. The regular legislative session begins in February.

“Come 2017, I hope there’s no animosity,” Munford said. “You still are representing this state, and you’re still representing your constituents.”

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