A sales tax increase to boost police funding in Clark County is on hold again, thanks to one of the strangest Clark County Commission votes in recent memory. The right result was achieved Tuesday afternoon for all the wrong reasons.
This spring, the Legislature gave the all-Democrat commission the authority to raise the county’s sales tax rate by up to 0.15 percentage points, but a supermajority of five commissioners was required for passage. And it has been clear since August that five of seven commissioners won’t support a tax increase of that magnitude, at least all at once.
That’s why Commissioner Susan Brager put forward a compromise plan: a 0.075 percentage-point increase in the sales tax rate. The legislation that enables the commission to raise the sales tax gives the panel until July 1, 2016, to do so. Ms. Brager’s approach was to approve half the allowed amount, wait and see how the economy and police budgets fare over the next year or two, then consider whether the second half of the tax increase was still needed.
But Commissioner Tom Collins wanted the full tax increase immediately, and he wanted it so much he was willing to sabotage the compromise plan. So Mr. Collins made the motion to vote on Ms. Brager’s plan first, then delivered the decisive third vote against it. Mr. Collins made a motion to vote on the full 0.15 percentage-point increase, but four commissioners voted against it. Both plans died.
“They (police) don’t need this compromised, scratch-your-ass stuff,” the eloquent Mr. Collins said. “They need the whole thing.”
So police will get nothing, at least for now. And that’s a good thing. As we’ve noted in this space previously, police funding is not a crisis in Southern Nevada. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department can access nearly $140 million in reserves to close a budget hole. And local governments across the county have done little, besides eliminating positions, to save money on their unsustainable personnel costs. Where’s the reform?
Commissioners should not vote against a sales tax hike because it’s too small. They should vote against it because it won’t put more officers on the streets. Clark County voters narrowly approved a 2004 advisory question to raise the sales tax rate up to a half-cent — to hire more officers. But the collapse of the economy, growth in officer salaries and benefits, and retirements have left police forces with about the same number of cops. And a .15-cent increase in the sales tax rate would merely preserve existing positions and fund more pay raises in the years ahead. That’s not fair to taxpayers who have suffered greatly over the past six years. They didn’t vote for a bailout.