New fuel taxes proposed in Clark County

CARSON CITY — A line of local government and business officials endorsed a bill Thursday that could increase fuel taxes in Clark County by about 3 cents a gallon a year and allow the Regional Transportation Commission to issue bonds to construct $800 million in highway projects.

Tina Quigley, RTC general manager, told members of the Assembly Taxation Committee that her agency now has about $22 million a year to spend on highway projects. That’s about what it costs to “build one interchange a year, one mile a year or one section of the Beltway a year,” she said.

Under Assembly Bill 413, the Clark County Commission each year could increase the fuel tax, now 52.2 cents a gallon overall, by the inflation index for highway construction, which has been about 5.8 percent a year. If the index drops, the annual increase would be less.

Officials said the tax increase allowed by the enabling legislation likely never would be more than 4 cents a gallon per year because of a cap in the bill.

The increase would bring in about $27 million in the first year and would generate enough money to issue an $800 million bond within three or four years.

The RTC then could work on highway construction of critical need, such as finishing the Las Vegas Beltway and constructing the Boulder City bypass.

The Taxation Committee took no action on the bill, although Chairwoman Irene Bustamante Adams, D-Las Vegas, gathered suggested amendments made by witnesses.

The bill had only one opponent, Paul Enos, the executive director of the Nevada Trucking Association. He said he dislikes tax indexing, but favors another bill that would increase gasoline and diesel taxes by 2 cents a gallon per year.

Enos said if the bill passes, then the RTC should be required to do a cost-benefit analysis on any projects, especially the Boulder City bypass, it intends to build. He said he saves five minutes by driving on the new Interstate 580 freeway between Reno and Carson City, but that money might have been better spent in Southern Nevada.

Clark County, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson all supported the bill, even though they are quite aware of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s pledge to veto any new tax increases. Republicans to this point have solidly climbed on Sandoval’s bandwagon, and Democrats are four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass taxes and override vetoes.

“We don’t consider this a tax increase; it’s enabling legislation,” said Quigley after the hearing.

Quigley said that by approving the bill, neither Sandoval nor legislators would actually be approving the tax increase. That decision would be made by the Clark County Commission.

She said she doesn’t even consider it a tax increase, but a change in the cost of living. Twenty years ago a pair of good shoes might cost $20 and the sales tax on it would be 8 percent, she said. Today the same shoes may cost $60, but the sales tax remains at 8 percent.

Quigley also noted that the Washoe County Commission in 2009 was given legislative permission to index fuel taxes. Their taxes are now 12 cents higher than in other counties. All other counties but Clark have the same enabling authority and the county should have the same rights as the rest of the state, she said.

During the hearing, Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, said under the bill, the gas tax in Clark County could increase by 36 cents a gallon or more in the next decade.

After the meeting, Hardy said he could favor the bill if it were amended and the tax increase “went to a vote of the people.”

He said communities stagnate and growth declines without improvements in infrastructure such as highways.

Sandoval earlier this year said he would sign a bill to add a 0.25 percent sales tax increase for police in Clark County because voters had approved the tax increase in a past election. Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins testified the funds are “desperately needed and would be used wisely.”

Numerous business lobbyists, including the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, also backed the tax increase.

Bill Wellman of Las Vegas Paving said the additional money the bill would collect would create 2,135 full-time jobs for 3½ years.

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