Nevada Senate majority leader defends bill to enact movie ticket tax

CARSON CITY — Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis defended his party’s bill Thursday to levy an 8 percent tax movie tickets at the same time another Democratic bill would give $35 million in tax breaks to companies that make movies in Nevada.

But Denis, D-Las Vegas, admitted there is a possibility that the movie admission tax could be excised from the Nevada Entertainment and Admission Tax bill when it is heard Tuesday in a hearing before the Assembly and Senate taxation committees.

“I don’t know if it ultimately will be in the bill or not,” said Denis in an interview. “If you are going to do good tax policy, you have to put everything in and then figure it out. You aren’t going to start by exempting people out. People who have been hit the hardest (over the five-year recession) aren’t going to movies.”

Yet some newspaper readers and even legislators have ridiculed the idea of taxing Nevadans who attend movies at the same time lawmakers are talking about giving tax breaks to wealthy movie companies. There is a perception that the movie admission tax revenue would pay for movie company tax breaks since the revenue would go to the state general fund and the incentives would come from the same fund.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, questioned including movie admissions in Assembly Bill 498 soon after it was introduced Wednesday by Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas. Denis said he and other Senate Democrats had worked on the Kirkpatrick bill.

Gov. Brian Sandoval also came out quickly in opposition to the bill.

The personal financial problems of Actor Nicolas Cage also have become an item of discussion in Legislative Building hallways. Denis declined to comment about Cage’s finances but noted the actor volunteered to testify for the movie tax credit bill, Senate Bill 165, and was brought to the hearing by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

“He has had a very successful career in the movies and knows how to make movies and he is a Nevadan,” Dennis said. “It is gratifying that someone in Nevada of his stature wants to do something for the state.”

Denis said the bill would bring more jobs to Nevada and the state needs to offer only “a little bit of an excuse (for movies) to come here.”

“We have mountains, deserts, water and we are close to California,” he said.

Zack Zaragosa, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, even sent out an email Thursday urging Nevadans to “stand with Nicolas Cage and Nevada Dems” by signing a petition urging passing of SB165. The petition can be found at http://nvdems.com/pages/w1305jobs/.

Yet the governors of Michigan and Louisiana, two states known for using tax breaks to lure movie companies, are both moving to reduce the incentives since their returns were less than what they expected.

Cage also visited Sandoval during his visit to Carson City.

Steve Hill, the director of the Governor’s Office on Economic Development, in February told legislators that movie tax credits might not work since most states now offer them, and there is a bidding war among states for movies.

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