Nobody wants to pay the Family Fun Tax


CARSON CITY

If nothing else, one thing is certain: Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick isn’t backing down from her Nevada Entertainment and Admissions Tax.

It’s otherwise known, to the speaker’s ire, as the Family Fun Tax, given that it would slap an 8 percent levy on movie tickets, concerts, NASCAR races and even trips to the gym. And that’s annoying to Kirkpatrick, who spent the entire session working on the proposal.

“Over the last few days, I’ve heard a lot of criticism, but I haven’t heard a lot of alternatives,” Kirkpatrick said at a hearing Tuesday. “We have to decide whether Nevada wants to grow up and be a state or if we’re going to say ‘anybody but me.’ ”

And the verdict’s in: It’s “anybody but me” in a landslide!

Kirkpatrick’s star turn before the Assembly Taxation and Senate Revenue and Economic Development committees was followed immediately by representatives of NASCAR, the Electric Daisy Carnival, the Reno Rodeo, gyms and even a yoga studio. All objected to the tax or, at the very least, wanted to be exempt from it.

Not lost in the discussion was the oft-repeated notion that groups running the events won’t be paying the tax; instead, car racing fans, weekend duffers, movie buffs and health nuts will.

“It’s asking the fans to pay the tax,” said Chris Powell, president of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “The current law is a tax break for working families.” (The speedway is exempt from the current live entertainment tax only on the big Sprint Cup weekend, when tens of thousands of fans flock to the track.)

Simon Lamb, chief operating officer and general counsel of Insomniac, the company that puts on the Electric Daisy Carnival, told lawmakers that his company decided to come to Las Vegas based on a variety of factors, one of which was an exemption from the current live entertainment tax.

Lamb hinted strongly that the Electric Daisy Carnival — which hosts events elsewhere in the country and even overseas — could pull up stakes if higher taxes are imposed. That drew some skeptical questions from lawmakers, because Kirkpatrick already had noted the carnival collects admission taxes at most of its other venues.

But asked directly if the event would move if the tax was imposed, Lamb demurred: “Our fans will be the ones who answer that question. They will vote with their feet.”

The protestations didn’t move some lawmakers, however. Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said he could recall when NASCAR promoters came to Carson City to try to get tax exemptions on motor parts. “It’s getting ridiculous,” he said.

When lobbyist (and former Democratic lawmaker) David Goldwater asked for the committee’s permission to petition the easy marks over at the Commission on Economic Development for a tax break, Horne refused, saying that was simply a way to get out of paying the tax.

Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, was skeptical of claims from event promoters about jobs, economic impact and profits. Explain, she demanded, why you don’t want to give.

The answer, Goldwater quickly explained, is that “giving” would mean an increase in prices (as much as $34 on a $427 weekend ticket for the Electric Daisy Carnival), which could lead to a drop in demand, less attendance and less money in town as a result.

Would people still come? Probably. They pay the taxes in other, less interesting cities, and everybody loves to spend time in Las Vegas.

But even if Kirkpatrick can argue (truthfully) that she’s simply extending the current tax to events and venues that should always have been taxed, and that everybody needs to contribute, she’s not going to sell the public or the Republicans on paying more.

That means we’re going to need one of those alternatives she says nobody’s talking about.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.