The great state of Nevada may be desperate for cash, but not so desperate that it will tax pot or prostitution to make ends meet.
Proposals for new taxes on marijuana and prostitution are just two of the citizen-generated ideas lawmakers and Gov. Jim Gibbons have decided not to include on the agenda for an upcoming special session of the Legislature.
That's despite a budget shortfall estimated at $887 million and assertions that "everything is on the table" when it comes to balancing the state budget without further cuts to education and services for the state's seniors and mentally ill. Other controversial proposals from citizens include replacing incarceration with treatment for nonviolent offenders, changing death sentences to life in prison to reduce litigation costs and allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.
"I know we are in difficult times here. But at the same time I don't want to change everything just because we are in difficult times," said Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas.
Denis was one of more than 20 state legislators who participated in a Feb. 13 meeting with citizens that lasted nearly eight hours. The meeting gave the public a chance to offer their ideas to solve the state's budget crisis. More than 600 people showed up to give input. Citizens also contributed ideas during a meeting of the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee on Thursday.
In addition to many calls for higher taxes on the mining and gambling industry, there were calls to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana and add Clark County to the list of places where prostitution is legal and could generate tax revenue.
"It could provide huge amounts of money in this state," real estate investor Ed Uehling told the legislators Feb. 13. Immigration lawyer Vicenta Montoya suggested allowing illegal immigrants to apply for driver's licenses, a move she says would make money for the state and prompt many of today's unlicensed immigrant drivers to buy insurance.
"This is a consumer issue," she said. Attorney JoNell Thomas suggested putting an end to the death penalty because, she says, it could reduce litigation costs by $500,000 to $2 million per case when compared to life-in-prison sentences.
"End the incredible expense of the death penalty and let's put that money to good use," Thomas said.
Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, has doubts enough of his colleagues support shaking up the status quo to pressure legislative leaders and the governor to include citizens' unconventional ideas on the special session agenda.
"Some of these convention-breaking ideas, in order to be acceptable, need a little time in the public mind, a little time in the Legislature to get people accustomed to it," Hogan said.
Hogan, however, says even unconventional ideas are worth exploring.
"I think the prostitution one is probably a lot harder to get the public to agree with. I have a feeling we may be, pretty much, ready for marijuana," he said.
Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said he, too, is willing to consider unconventional ideas such as taxing prostitution.
"I'm not sure that is a legitimate method to raise money. But if the legal brothel industry is going to step forward I'll listen to them," he said.
He was more skeptical that eliminating the death penalty would save money.
"I think you have to have some penalties, some consequences for some very egregious actions," Hambrick said.
Contact Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.