October 14, 2016 - 3:10 am
CARSON CITY — A long-awaited vote on a bill that would increase hotel room taxes to fund a domed stadium and improvements to the Las Vegas Convention Center failed to materialize early Friday morning after a marathon 17-hour Assembly session that saw plenty of controversy.
The Nevada Assembly recessed until 9 a.m. Friday after spending more than an hour hearing new testimony on the financial implications of the stadium project on Southern Nevada road construction. The early morning testimony was hastily arranged late Thursday night after lawmakers learned of a report showing up to $900 million in road projects that could be prioritized as a result of the stadium construction.
After the hearing ended just after 1 a.m., Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said late news of the report made passage of the stadium proposal more difficult. But he also said the explanation from administration officials answered lawmaker concerns.
Anderson said he expects a vote Friday and said “yes” when he was asked if he expected Senate Bill 1 to pass.
But it was not clear if there were the 28 votes needed in the Assembly to pass Senate Bill 1.
Assistant Majority Floor Leader Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said after 9 p.m. that the bill was just short of the support needed for passage. There were 17 solid yes votes for the plan in the 25-member Republican Assembly caucus, and an estimated 10 votes in the 17-member Democratic caucus, Hansen said. The bill needs 28 votes, a two-thirds supermajority, to pass and advance to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s desk.
After hours of testimony and questions on Thursday, the Assembly planned to adjourn with the matter unresolved. But after the transportation report raised a storm on Twitter, lawmakers returned to get their questions answered.
The new drama ensued after reviewjournal.com reported on a study for the Nevada Department of Transportation that found nearly $900 million in accelerated road projects eventually would be needed for the stadium. The projects were already planned but would be moved up in priority.
The story provoked wide reaction on Twitter, with several lawmakers asking why the information was not presented to the Legislature during hearings this week.
The report prompted Sandoval’s office to bring Rudy Malfabon, director of NDOT, and Chief of Staff Mike Willden, to the Assembly chambers to discuss the document, which is dated Oct. 4. The agency reported no fiscal impact from the stadium proposal, but critics asked why it was not presented during the hearings.
If the Assembly can’t line up two-thirds support, Republican lawmakers could decide to punt a final decision on the $1.9 billion domed stadium to the Clark County Commission, two lawmakers said Thursday.
Doing so would require only a simple majority vote by lawmakers, not the two-thirds supermajority necessary for direct legislative approval of tax increases.
The potential hang-up in the Assembly could bring another controversial issue into the special session: education savings accounts, the school choice program enacted last year but struck down by the Nevada Supreme Court two weeks ago over the financing aspect of the program.
Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he was told that Republicans might seek an amended special session proclamation from Sandoval to revisit ESAs, which would give parents who withdraw their children from public school more than $5,000 per year for private school tuition, distance learning programs or alternative education services.
ESAs were made law last year on a party-line vote, with majority Republicans in favor and Democrats staunchly opposed. Segerblom said Republicans were preparing to introduce legislation to resurrect the ESA program to pressure Democrats into supporting public funding for the stadium and convention center improvements. The stadium would become the new home of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, provided the league approves the franchise’s relocation, and the UNLV football team.
There was no immediate comment from Sandoval’s office as to whether he would consider a new proclamation for ESA funding. Sandoval, a Republican, had kept the ESA issue off the special session proclamation that convened lawmakers this week — over the objections of some GOP lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, was coy Thursday when asked if ESAs were being discussed, but he said an option that enables the county commission to approve the room tax increases was a possibility.
“If that’s all that’s available, of course, but we’d rather get this done here with a two-thirds vote,” he said. “The options are you pass the bill as is with two-thirds; you pass an enabling version; or you pass nothing.
“The last option is not a viable option for me, so it’s one of the first two.”
The Senate recessed around 5 p.m. and was awaiting action on the bill by the Assembly.
Republicans have the votes to move ESAs forward if they identify existing funds to get the program going. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the program is constitutional, but that funding it from the state schools account was not.
The Nevada Economic Forum was told last week that the new commerce tax approved by lawmakers in 2015 is about $40 million over projections, which could be a source of revenue to fund ESAs over the short term.
The bill implementing $750 million in stadium funding, along with about $400 million toward a $1.4 billion expansion and modernization of the Las Vegas Convention Center, passed the Senate on Tuesday on a 16-5 vote. Segerblom voted against Senate Bill 1, saying the Legislature did not properly vet the proposal.
The Assembly spent much of the day Thursday hearing details of the stadium and convention center expansion proposals.
Strong support has been voiced for the stadium and convention center projects this week.
Casino executives Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International, and Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd., both offered support in testimony Monday. Many union groups support the projects as well, including the AFL-CIO of Nevada.
An estimated 18,000 construction jobs would be created with the NFL stadium project.
There has been testimony in opposition as well, with the public funding viewed as a subsidy for the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson at the expense of supporting other state needs, particularly public education. Adelson’s family would contribute $650 million toward the project while the Raiders would kick in $500 million.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.