Final 'More Cops' tax hike decision now in County Commission's hands

CARSON CITY — A weighty tax hike decision has been handed to the Clark County Commission.

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Thursday signed the so-called “More Cops” bill that enables the commission, with support of two-thirds of its members, to increase the sales tax rate in Clark County, now 8.1 percent, to 8.25 percent.

The additional revenue, about $30 million a year, would be given to police departments in the county, to hire and retain police. About three-fourths of the funds would go to the Metropolitan Police Department, which serves the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated areas of the county.

Sandoval signed Senate Bill 1, the More Cops tax bill, and four other bills passed by the Legislature in the one-hour special legislative session on June 4. Also Thursday, he vetoed two more bills and signed six other bills approved by the Legislature at the 2013 session. That means he has completed signing or vetoing all bills that were approved during the special and regular sessions.

In all, he vetoed 17 bills, compared with 28 in 2011. Legislators could consider overriding the vetoes when the next session begins in 2015. The governor signed into law 558 bills.

Under the More Cops law, the county could put the tax hike into effect on Oct. 1. Reports on how the funds were spent must be reported periodically to the Legislature.

Sandoval said he supported the bill because Clark County voters in 2004 backed a plan to hire more police through a sales tax increase of as much as 0.5 percentage points. That entire increase, however, never has been implemented by the Legislature. A 0.25 percentage point increase in the sales tax was authorized by the 2005 Legislature.

With the crime rates increasing in 2012 and police vacancies not being filled because of the drop in property tax revenue, Sheriff Doug Gillespie asked for approval of the remaining 0.25 percentage point tax increase. Legislators, however, were willing to agree to give the county only a 0.15 percentage point increase. And rather than approving the increase themselves, they made the bill “enabling” legislation that puts the onus of actually increasing taxes on the County Commission.

Other special session bills signed included:

—Senate Bill 2 that provides another $2 million in funds for the Millennium Scholarship program that gives up to $10,000 in scholarship funds to bright Nevada high school graduates who attend state colleges and universities. Another bill that allocated $5 million for the scholarship program was signed by Sandoval on Wednesday night.

—Senate Bill 506 that settles a lengthy dispute between the state and the gaming industry over whether sales taxes should be collected for comped meals and drinks. To save $233 million that the state potentially could owe to casinos, depending on how the Nevada Supreme Court rules in a pending case, the state agreed not to tax free meals in exchange for casinos withdrawing their claims for sales tax refunds.

—Senate Bill 3 that allows the state to loan as much as $500 per student, or a total of $200,000, to individual charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded schools governed by a group or organization and overseen by a government agency.

—Assembly Bill 2 that requires school districts to report periodically the number of students per teacher in classes.

His vetoes included:

—Assembly Bill 150 that would have created the Legislative Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability. This panel would have investigated state agencies, boards and commissions and issued subpoenas to compel executives to respond to its requests. Sandoval noted the Legislative Commission already has subpoena power and that the bill would be duplicative.

—Senate Bill 185 that would have allowed the issuance of bonds to construct projects at the University of Nevada, Reno. Sandoval the bill was modified to require prevailing wages, which would significantly increase costs.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.