Give Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins credit for being right about a couple of things.
First, he’s right to push for increasing the county’s sales tax rate by 0.15 percentage points to raise money for existing and new police jobs. The sales tax is far from the best way to fund the department, but it is the only option currently available to commissioners, unless they’re willing to re-open the general fund budget and toss some money Metro’s way.
Which, by the way, they’re not. So the sales tax is it.
Second, Collins is right when he says you can’t say you support police but withhold your vote when it comes time to pay the bill. Commissioners can talk about how they love cops, but it’s clear at this point only three of them love Metro enough to vote for the full tax. (And yes, I’m aware the county has many other priorities, some of them involving life and death, such as University Medical Center or family services.)
So while Collins’ efforts to get Las Vegas Valley police agencies the maximum allowable tax is a noble effort, we have to understand that it’s also the reason Metro brass left the Government Center last week with zero instead of half a loaf. Collins intentionally torpedoed a compromise proposal offered by Commissioner Susan Brager to allow a 0.075-percentage point increase, or half of what the Legislature authorized earlier this year. Collins believes that’s just not enough, and he voted no, denying Brager’s compromise the essential fifth vote necessary to pass. (The Legislature required a two-thirds supermajority, or five votes, for an increase.)
Collins, undeterred, was back by week’s end with a “compromise” proposal of his own: Pass some of the tax so it takes effect in April (say, perhaps, 0.12 percentage points) and the rest so it takes effect in July (say, the remaining 0.03 percentage points).
In other words, do it his way, but do it his way more slowly.
Brager, however, is sticking to her position just as adamantly as Collins is sticking to his: There’s no way she’ll go for a plan that puts the full 0.15 into effect. And since she has one of the votes necessary to pass Collins’ plan, it’s a no go. Then again, Collins has the vote necessary to pass or kill her plan, so that’s a no go, too.
I don’t want to suggest Collins is being unreasonable (after all, I already said I agree with his stance to pass the entire tax). But what if he instead proposed passing the 0.075-percentage-point plan (for which there are five votes, if he’d agree to vote aye). Then, agree to allow the other 0.075 to go into effect in January or July 2015, unless the county voted to suspend it.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie said he’d rather get something than nothing, although he says the full amount is the only way to actually hire new officers. And the momentum would be with Metro to demonstrate it’s using the money well in the year or so before the next vote.
There’s no guarantee, however, the commission would allow the latter half to go into effect, and commissioners could reserve the right to vote against the latter half of the tax. On the other hand, the only guarantee we have now is that the Collins proposal and the Brager proposal will languish without the vital fifth vote if both sides fail to compromise.
Something is always better than nothing, and in politics, incremental progress beats an inadequate status quo every time. So, how about it, commission?
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.