Clark County, others study ballot issue over state's revenue seizure

Local governments across Nevada are considering a message for members of the state Legislature: Don't touch our money without our say-so.

Seven of the state's 17 counties have already approved an advisory ballot question for November's ballot asking whether the state should get local government consent before taking money from local coffers or imposing new fees or services.

The Clark County Commission is expected to consider the ballot question at its meeting Tuesday, and the Las Vegas City Council is scheduled to consider a resolution supporting it on Wednesday.

"I think it's a strong message," said Commissioner Larry Brown. "We need more autonomy. We need more authority to manage our revenues and expenses."

The measure is only advisory, noted Jeffrey Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties.

"The intent of this is really to convey a message to the legislators that voters want their local taxes to be used for local services," he said. "When (the state) takes revenues ... it really creates an impact."

In the past two fiscal years, the state has diverted $250 million from county budgets to help the state fill a huge budget deficit. And $200 million of that came from Clark County, Fontaine said.

So far, Washoe, Elko, Carson, Humboldt, White Pine, Churchill and Lyon counties have approved putting the question before voters. The deadline for submitting measures to county clerks is July 19.

But Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchuliani, a former state legislator, said officials are wasting their time with the measure.

"We have more important things to be worrying about," she said. "Why don't we try to work collaboratively rather than sending a message of 'we're angry and we're not going to take it anymore?' "

The measure could antagonize lawmakers instead of establishing communication, she said. And even if it passes, "the Legislature still has the authority to do what it needs to do."

"I don't like that they took our money," Giunchuliani said. "They just had no place else to go.

"We should be focusing on tax policy. We have too narrow a tax base. We have too many sales tax exemptions and we need to do something different," she said.

The sagging economy has hit all levels of government with reduced tax revenues, forcing budget cuts, furloughs and layoffs. State and local budgets must be balanced by law.

With tax increases being both unpopular and hard to enact, state leaders turned to local funds to keep from slashing services such as education and health care -- but that created fresh headaches for local officials.

Communication between lawmakers and local officials has improved over the past few years, said commission Chairman Rory Reid, who is running for governor and might be on the other side of the budget equation by the time the Legislature meets again.

Still, he said, local governments need to "humbly protest" the raiding of their funds.

"I recognize that local governments are subdivisions of the state government and ultimately the Legislature makes these decisions, but I think it's important for local governments, even if it's just symbolic, to say these decisions are better made closer to home," Reid said.

"Local control is good."

The County Commission meets at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at 500 S. Grand Central Parkway in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas City Council meeting begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday in City Hall, 400 Stewart Ave.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@review or 229-6435.