Failure to clear the "jealousy gap" at the Nevada Legislature could be the difference between continued economic recovery for Las Vegas city government or another plunge into the fiscal abyss.
That is how City Councilman Bob Coffin described the situation local governments face when pinning their financial hopes on a decision by the Legislature to approve a proposed one-quarter cent sales tax in Clark County to pay police officers.
Clark County voters approved a half cent sales tax for police in 2004, but only one-quarter cent was implemented. Implementation of the second quarter cent requires approval from the Clark County Commission and the Legislature, which Coffin said isn't a slam dunk.
In 2009, the Legislature declined to approve the second quarter cent for police but did approve a different increase for the state.
"Sometimes they break their word, they break their commitment; that's why you have got to watch out for that last-minute deal," Coffin said of lawmakers.
The "jealousy gap" Coffin referred to is a layer of resentment created in large part because unionized local government workers tend to make more pay and benefits than non-union state workers.
"There is going to be a gap, a resentment gap, a jealously gap," Coffin said. "That is something that is not in print, but it is an attitude."
Coffin suggested the gap could be reduced if, while lobbying for the sales tax, local governments pressed the Legislature to consider changes to state law that contribute to the two-tiered system.
Overcoming resentment and last-minute shenanigans is important because, without the additional sales tax money, Las Vegas' projected $12 million budget shortfall could grow to $25 million.
"The impacts would be dramatic," said city manager Betsy Fretwell, who referred to previous city budgets in 2009 and 2010 that included layoffs, pay cuts and service reductions. "All of these things, we would have to go back to that list."
The discussion at the council meeting Wednesday grew from a presentation by Sheriff Doug Gillespie and other officials from the Metropolitan Police Department.
Gillespie is leading the charge to build support for the tax among local governments.
He said police department revenue has decreased by $92 million since 2008, a gap that has been offset with reserves that are running low.
Las Vegas' chief financial officer said the city faces about a $13 million overall shortfall in its upcoming budget with the sales tax increase to help cover police needs.
Without help from more sales taxes, that shortfall would balloon to as much as $33 million.
After the presentation and discussion, the council voted 5-1 to reaffirm support for the sales tax increase. Councilman Bob Beers voted no.
Beers said the language of the original tax proposal calls for a vote of the people if police want to use the money to do something other than add new officers.
In addition to asking the Legislature to approve the second quarter cent, Gillespie wants lawmakers to change the language of the law to allow him to fill existing vacancies.
"Politically, I don't believe the citizens support another sales tax increase," Beers said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285 .