Taxing questions


How much more evidence does Gov. Jim Gibbons need to learn that growth doesn't pay for itself?

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie is planning to ask for the second quarter-percentage-point sales tax hike voters authorized in 2004 to hire more police officers. Sure, the valley's police departments say they've put more cops on the streets, but the reality out in the neighborhoods continues to be that you'll see a marked car only if you call to report a crime. It's amazing Metro still sends officers to homes to respond to burglaries.

The whole process, from my perspective, takes place to give the victim a report for insurance purposes.

When my home was burglarized two years ago, the officer came into the house and sat at the kitchen table to write a report. He wasn't interested in looking around at the ransacked upstairs drawers for any clues or evidence. Instead he focused on asking us whether we locked the house, have a dog, have a security system, have motion-activated lights or left a television or radio on when we were away.

The burglary was somehow our fault because we didn't do enough, at the time, to deter the criminal from a brazen midday act.

Metro basically admits it's impossible to solve a home burglary. And while the department deserves credit for aggressively seeking to reduce the rate of stolen vehicles, the problem is still rampant.

Property crime just isn't sexy enough. Armed robbery, in some neighborhoods, is even becoming passe.

Las Vegans like to tell national pollsters that they're most concerned about the economy or Iraq. Some even get down to health care or education.

But at the neighborhood level, crime is still a top quality-of-life concern.

Candidates for the County Commission and the City Council know this. But local governments are facing increasing strains on their budgets during this economic downturn, and with police funding already comprising the bulk of their spending, there's little more they can throw at the problem.

All the local police chiefs will line up to ask the Legislature next year to allow them to impose the second quarter-point increase in the sales tax.

In case you somehow didn't know this, we already pay 7.75 percent in Clark County thanks to all the add-ons voters have approved over the years.

There's a quarter-point for flood control; half a point for transportation; a quarter point for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and, finally, a quarter-point for cops.

I almost chuckled when I saw the default 6.5 percent state sales tax rate come up on the Turbo Tax program I use to file my federal return. When we hit the big 8 percent in Clark, we'll have almost caught up with Los Angeles (8.25 percent) and New York City (8.375 percent). New York's got upward of 30,000 cops, not to mention more than 8 million people.

There's no question Sheriff Gillespie needs the additional quarter point. And he's saying so now, in the middle of his first term, so there's no ambiguity when he seeks re-election.

For Gillespie, a tax increase isn't the type of holy betrayal that Gov. Jim Gibbons, a fellow Republican, believes it is. But the sales tax increase was a hard sell in 2004 (largely because the sales tax is regressive and subject to significant revenue instability in bad economic times). There was also the very real concern about whether the money would actually put many new cops on the street. That will undoubtedly be analyzed even more closely by legislators in some southeastern districts where the measure failed or barely passed.

November will bring one of the most important legislative elections in recent history. Not only is the state facing budget shortfalls, there are daunting transportation needs, looming problems with public employee retirement benefits and significant decreases in federal health care funding to the state. Meanwhile, the K-12 school superintendents still haven't gotten the $1 billion they say could improve education.

And the Clark County School District is expected to put a bond measure on the ballot this year just to construct new schools to keep up with growth.

Gibbons, faced with all of these revenue issues, still thinks Nevada has just enough (maybe even too much) money coming in. One thing we know we'll get from him is a veto of any tax or fee increases. As for solving the problems, Gibbons has vowed to take a look at Clark County's revenue and see whether it makes better sense putting it in the state's hands.

Meanwhile, political parties are grooming candidates for legislative races. There's a certain inoffensive, not to mention ineffectual, style emerging on both sides of the aisle: Candidates are marching lockstep to the no-new-taxes refrain.

That actually may just work out. A study suggests there's a 50-50 chance Lake Mead could be dry in 13 years. Those odds are even better then a black-red roulette bet.

Maybe that's the long-term solution we need. If there's no water, who would come -- or stay?

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

 

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