CARSON CITY — The Clark County Commission would be allowed to increase the sales tax to pay for more police and raise the fuel tax to pay for more road projects under two bills advanced by a legislative committee Thursday.
The Assembly Taxation Committee gave its support for the county to boost the sales tax by 0.15 percentage points and to hike the gas tax by about 3 cents a gallon for three years to raise highway construction funds.
Another tax bill, which would boost the gas tax by 2 cents per gallon to help pay for the Project Neon freeway project in Las Vegas, did not receive approval in the Senate but survived this week’s legislative deadline when it was referred to a Senate money committee.
Assembly Taxation members approved Assembly Bill 413, the gas tax bill, unanimously and only Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, voted against Assembly Bill 496, the More Cops sales tax increase.
They are the first tax increase bills to be approved by any legislative committee this session.
While Republicans are on record as opposing any new tax increases, they can argue they have not voted for taxes but are just letting the County Commission make that decision.
Gov. Brian Sandoval already has said he would sign the More Cops bill because in 2004 Clark County voters supported adding as much as a 0.50 percentage point sales tax increase to hire additional police, but only part of that amount has been assessed.
Under AB413, a simple majority of the County Commission could vote to increase the gas tax for three years starting in 2014. But for the gas tax increase to continue, county voters would have to support it in the November 2016 election.
The More Cops sales tax increase must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the County Commission before the sales tax rate, now 8.1 percent, could increase to 8.25 percent. The Legislature voted in 2005 to allow the county to raise the sales tax rate by 0.25 percentage points.
If the additional 0.15 percentage point increase becomes law this year, then police could come back to the Legislature and seek the remaining 0.10 percentage point increase.
Pierce, one of the most liberal legislators, opposed higher sales taxes, saying it is a regressive tax that mostly hurts the poor and middle class.
She said she vowed before the session to oppose any sales tax increases until the Legislature passes a broad-based tax increase on business.
Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she was assured by Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie that he would hire and equip at least 40 more police officers with the additional revenue.
She added Gillespie has agreed to look seriously at using some of the funds to buy body cameras for police.
The NAACP had recommended using 7 percent of the More Tax money to purchase body cameras as way as a way to help resolve disputed incidents with the public.
That amendment was not approved, but Kirkpatrick said it must be “part of the discussions” by the sheriff.
She said police departments in Clark County also must make regular reports on their use of the money, and she will watch to see whether it is spent on police.
“If it is misspent, then it can be dispersed to communities who spend the money correctly,” she added. “I will be watching the reports.”
During a March 21 hearing, Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Clark County, told the committee her agency has just $22 million a year available to spend on highway projects.
She proposed indexing the current overall gas tax rate, 52.2 cent per gallon, to the rate of inflation in costs for highway materials.
That would be about 3 cents to 4 cents per gallon per year. With this money, she said the county’s Regional Transportation Commission could generate enough funds in three or four years for an $800 million highway construction bond.
Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said he supported the gas tax because “roads are in deplorable shape.”
Chairwoman Irene Bustamante Adams, D-Las Vegas, agreed with that assessment, adding that “it will be up to the people.”
In the Senate Revenue Committee, members did not vote out Senate Bill 377, a proposal by Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, to impose a 2 cents per gallon annual gas tax increase and use that revenue for Project Neon to improve the flow of traffic in downtown Las Vegas.
Instead the committee referred the bill to the Senate Finance Committee, which will analyze its costs and decide later whether to approve it.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.