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December 13, 2017

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‘Preview’ scholars cautious about what Trump presidency means for Las Vegas economy

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Tom Donoghue / DonoghuePhotography.com

An aerial view of the Las Vegas Strip on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, aboard a Maverick helicopter.

Your state? Pretty great. Your nation? Be patient.

Economists and scholars agreed at Tuesday’s Preview Las Vegas event, organized by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, that Nevada’s recovery from the Great Recession hums along in normally watched sectors like housing, employment and business development. They also concur that national uncertainty brought on by the election of Donald Trump and his subsequent rocky transition into the White House requires a cautious approach in 2017.

Rob Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV, and John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, put on the event’s most interesting discussion. The pair bantered about the most salient issues facing Nevada and the southwest, with particular attention paid to the effect the new presidential administration could have on them.

Some of the issues discussed included:

Marijuana

Nevada joined the growing group of states to legalize recreational marijuana in the 2016 election and Gov. Brian Sandoval announced his desire for a 10 percent tax on sales during his State of the State address last week. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s deeply conservative nominee for attorney general, does not share the same enthusiasm for marijuana as an industry as those in Colorado, Washington and Nevada.

“The man who will almost certainly become the next attorney general has said good people don't smoke marijuana,” Hudak said.

While the state Legislature considers bills related to the industry starting next month and the Department of Taxation works toward a structure for the rollout of retail sales, questions pop up about the possibility of intervention by Sessions. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but under Barack Obama, regulators took a lax approach.

“The state can't 100 percent count on the tax revenue they're building into their budget,” Hudak said.

Yucca Mountain

Declared dead by former Sen. Harry Reid, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository again becomes a topic of discussion under Trump and a Republican Congress.

Millions of dollars would be needed to just to begin looking at revival of the shuttered site north of Las Vegas, and Lang seemed at least somewhat encouraged that a change in congressional committee leadership is going to put Western leadership in charge of any potential discussion of bringing back Yucca Mountain.

“Westerners get the fact that there's this place called Washington 2,000 miles away and they just dream stuff up and send it here,” Lang said.

Less encouraging is the nomination of Rick Perry for energy secretary, as Perry lacks experience dealing with nuclear issues.

“The current nominee for energy secretary won't take it off the table,” Lang said.

China

Trump’s decision to withdraw the country from the long-debated Trans Pacific Partnership signals a major shift in American trade policy. Throughout the campaign, Trump blasted China for a variety of perceived slights, but Hudak cautioned that the new president needs to see issues of trade and security and financial dependence as intertwined.

“When you come into office with that lack of experience, you tend to look at these issues simplistically, and they're not,” Hudak said.

Lang referred to the Western region as a stakeholder in trade issues with Asia, perhaps more so than the Midwest or other areas more excited about Trump’s push to withdraw America from the global economic stage.

“Screwing up in China probably isn't going to hurt Maine that much, but it might here,” Hudak said.

Health care

Hudak saved his strongest comments for the Republican-led Congress and its seeming inability to present a replacement to the Affordable Care Act while attempting to follow through on Trump’s campaign promise to repeal it.

“They've had seven years to come up with an alternative to the ACA. That is political malpractice,” Hudak said. “There is no reason the Republican Party has not crafted something that appeals to the general public.”

Hudak said many jobs will be lost as a result of removing the ACA, especially without a viable alternative.

“This is a part of the American economy now. Getting rid of it creates uncertainty,” Hudak said.

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