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Approval of Las Vegas stadium plan might face bumpy ride in Nevada Assembly

CARSON CITY — The path to passage could get bumpy Thursday for a bill that would help finance a domed stadium and Las Vegas Convention Center expansion.

Senate Bill 1 was approved by the Senate on a 16-5 vote Tuesday night. Legislators took Wednesday off in observance of Yom Kippur and will reconvene Thursday.

How the bill will be received by the Republican-controlled Assembly is unclear. But the first order of business will be a vote on Assembly Bill 1. That legislation authorizes the Clark County Commission to increase the sales tax rate by one-tenth of a percentage point to hire more police officers.

After that, Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, will take center stage to walk the 42 Assembly members through the intricacies of SB1, which raises Clark County’s room tax rate by 0.88 of a percentage point to fund $750 million of the potential $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium. The facility would be the potential future home of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and the UNLV football team.

The bill would add an additional 0.5 percentage-point room tax increase to raise $400 million toward a $1.4 billion upgrade of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The bill needs 28 votes to pass the lower house. The Nevada Constitution requires a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature to approve any tax increase.

Assembly majority leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said late Wednesday that lawmakers were working toward a possible final vote for sometime on Thursday. But when asked if there were enough votes to secure the bill’s passage, Anderson said, “I don’t think I could answer that at this point.”

On Wednesday, the Consumer Technology Association, which owns and produces the Consumer Electronics Show, the largest trade event held annually in Las Vegas, praised the Senate’s step to renovate the convention center.

“This critical investment will help us grow CES … and will allow us to continue to bring hundreds of millions of dollars each year in into the Las Vegas economy even in the interim while the expansion takes place,” Karen Chupka, CES senior vice president, said in a statement.

Raiders owner Mark Davis has pledged to move the team to Sin City, provided three-fourths of NFL franchise owners approve. Under the proposal, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson would contribute $650 million toward the project. The Raiders would kick in $500 million.

If the Raiders don’t move to Southern Nevada, the bill allows a lower room tax increase to generate $300 million toward the construction of a smaller stadium for UNLV, provided the university can raise $200 million in private donations within two years.

Critics argue using public money for a stadium pushed by wealthy backers amounts to corporate welfare and abuse of taxpayer dollars. They also decry the process of the special session, accusing lawmakers of ramming the deal through without thorough vetting.

They’ve also challenged proponents’ arguments that a stadium would bring thousands of new tourists to the state and fill hotel rooms.

“Not since the mining barons of the 1800s forced Nevada to re-write our Constitution to give them a better deal on gold has Nevada looked this naive,” the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada said in a statement after the Senate vote. “A few crumbs tossed in doesn’t change the fact that this is a terrible deal for Nevada.”

In testimony before the Senate on Tuesday, Hill said Las Vegas is a unique market and Southern Nevada tourism officials know it better than anyone else. He also argued both the stadium and convention center projects are necessary.

“Tourism and hospitality is and will remain the foundational economy in our state; 400,000 people work in that industry,” Hill said. “If that industry is not healthy and vibrant, it is very difficult and impossible for our sate’s economy to be healthy and vibrant.”

The Assembly may take care to manage the debate differently than in the Senate, where Republican Majority Leader Michael Roberson came under vocal criticism for holding public comment late Monday night, after many observers had gone home, then scheduled more public testimony for early the next morning. He faced more objections when he tried to limit opposition comments to 30 minutes, but ultimately extended all public testimony for three hours.

A resolution passed by the Senate fueled the perception of back-room dealings. It absolved senators from having to disclose any potential conflicts of interest, stating the measure was “of immense public importance” and the interests of any one senator was no different than the public at large.

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, also denounced the process. “We have been led by the nose up here by other people, and I believe we have renounced our obligation as legislators,” he said before voting no Tuesday night.

While some senators balked at using public funds to subsidize the stadium project, in the end a majority agreed with Gov. Brian Sandoval, construction trade unions and casino industry executives, who all championed the legislation.

“In order to lead, we must be bold,” Sandoval said in a statement Tuesday night after the Senate vote.

Supporters acknowledged the arguments of critics that Nevada has more pressing needs for its tax dollars. They pointed to education, services for seniors and the mentally ill, and a projected $400 million budget shortfall in the next biennium.

But they also argue room tax dollars are meant to be spent on tourism, and the convention center and stadium projects will further enhance the state’s main industry and economic generator.

“Not one Nevada resident will be paying this tax” unless they stay at a hotel, said state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas. “These are tourism taxes.”

Democratic Minority Leader Aaron Ford of Las Vegas, who amended the bill to include labor force diversity protections, acknowledged the difficult decision faced by lawmakers.

But he said he was persuaded to support the bill by testimony from a construction worker who told of living out of his vehicle and showering at a gym.

“I couldn’t leave this chamber and look a laborer in the eye and say I had a chance to give you a job and I said no,” Ford said on the Senate floor.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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