Clark County residents could soon be forced to pay an extra 0.15 percent in sales taxes to boost law enforcement and an extra 3 cents per gallon of gas for building new roads.
The Nevada Legislature this week approved the two bills that, if Gov. Brian Sandoval signs, would enable the County Commission to enact both tax increases that commissioners widely supported earlier this year.
But it’s uncertain whether commissioners would actually raise taxes on two fronts. In interviews Tuesday, five of the seven commissioners contacted by the Review-Journal gave mixed opinions on whether they will support either tax increase.
Lawmakers approved the fuel tax indexing legislation, which would allow the commission to increase the county’s fuel tax at a rate that matches the growth of inflation, late Monday night. Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he would veto any legislation raising taxes, but he hasn’t indicated whether he plans to veto this enabling legislation, Assembly Bill 413.
Lawmakers also approved the More Cops legislation, Assembly Bill 496, which allows the commission with a two-thirds vote to increase the sales tax from its current 8.1 percent to 8.25 percent to raise money for police starting Oct. 1. They did so in a special session Tuesday morning. Sandoval has indicated he will sign the bill.
The five commissioners the newspaper interviewed have divided opinions, and some are undecided. Some support both measures while others support just one.
Arguments on both sides tend to focus on the economy. Opponents’ argue that raising taxes won’t do anything to help the economic recovery. Supporters argue that raising taxes will help the recovery by creating construction jobs, hiring more officers while improving public safety.
Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak has reservations about the tax measures, noting the combined effect both would have.
“It’s a cumulative impact,” Sisolak said. “It’s not the isolation of one thing.”
For example, the fuel tax increase would amount to between 10 and 11 cents a gallon within three years, adding up to $100 a year for motorists.
“It’s a lot of money,” he said. “I just think we need to tread very, very lightly when it comes to tax increases. I’m very hesitant to vote in support of it. They’d have to do a great job convincing me.”
On the other hand, Commissioners Tom Collins and Larry Brown support both increases.
Collins said they are critical needs.
“We’re behind on the roads projects,” he said. “We’re behind on road funding to meet the needs of this community and we’ve got a large vacancy in the positions at the Police Department.”
Brown said the county is showing economic stability and the taxes would go toward targeted areas.
“I think it’s also important to demonstrate to our citizens that these types of taxes are going to very specific needs, be it public infrastructure or more officers on the street,” he said.
Commissioners could vote for one, but not the other.
Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said she’s inclined to support the More Cops sales tax, but hasn’t decided yet.
“It’s also public safety and there’s nothing more important to my constituents than the safety issue,” she said.
As for the fuel tax measure, she has questions on how it would affect residents and how well the gas tax provision has worked in Washoe County, where it’s already in practice.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she supports using fuel tax indexing. She said it would put people to work and get the county started on much-needed road projects.
As for the sales tax bill, the jury’s out. She said she still needs to analyze the final version of the bill that passed before deciding. She said she would have preferred a broad-based tax on services instead of a sales tax.
Before making their decision, commissioners will hear from Sheriff Doug Gillespie and the Regional Transportation Commission.
In a statement Tuesday, the sheriff praised the legislation’s passage.
“Replacing the approximate 426 commissioned police officers which have been lost in recent years due to budget shortfalls is the first step in returning our ability to proactively fight crime,” Gillespie said. “We have consistently seen throughout the years the proactive approach of stopping crime before it occurs dramatically increases community safety.”
Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission, said the top-priority projects the new tax would fund include finishing the Las Vegas Beltway and getting started on Interstate 11, which would eventually connect Las Vegas to Phoenix.
“We’re so excited to have received such support from the Legislature to allow Clark County to consider indexing our motor vehicle fuel tax to inflation,” she said.
If it gets the governor’s signature and the county’s approval, she said the agency would be able to start the bidding process on road projects as soon as early next year. She said construction would start next year, too, and immediately create 10,000 jobs.
“We would focus on projects that are regionally significant so we can really grow and diversify our economy,” she said.
Review-Journal writer Richard Lake contributed to this report. Contact reporter Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 702-455-4519.