CARSON CITY — Lawmakers got their first chance Thursday to hear details in a bill aimed at diverting tax money into financing for a major sports stadium in Las Vegas.
Senate Bill 501 would enable the Clark County Commission to choose one of three options to help finance a 35,000-seat stadium backers say is needed to help Las Vegas maintain its place on top of the entertainment world.
During the two-hour hearing, lawmakers heard testimony about stadium proposals from backers of three projects, including one who asked for a change that could put property taxpayers on the hook should money from sales, entertainment and other taxes not materialize.
Lawmakers didn’t ask any questions, but Assembly Taxation Committee Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, told witnesses to be prepared for questions about the details during another hearing planned this morning.
“We have to make sure the policy is right,” Kirkpatrick said. “I want to see … what things are in this bill that make your projects viable.”
Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association, said the bill contains several troubling provisions including the potential for a $1,000 assessment on parking spaces in downtown Las Vegas and the prospect of politicians calling the shots on development that would be best left for the marketplace to determine.
Vilardo also said that a lobbyist for one of the proposals asked that the bill be changed to allow developers to include general obligation bonds as a means of financing.
Those bonds, Vilardo said, are typically backed by property taxes, meaning if money from sales, entertainment and other taxes generated by the project doesn’t come in as intended, the burden shifts to property tax payers.
That means property taxes could go up “if the bonds had to be paid back and there wasn’t sufficient revenue from the local government.”
Backers of the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, emphasized the jobs that a new stadium project would create and the need for Las Vegas to remain atop the entertainment heap.
“The bill before you I think is one of the more exciting opportunities we have as a legislature this session,” Horsford told the joint hearing of the Assembly Taxation and Senate Revenue committees.
The bill identifies three types of facility districts that could be created in Clark County. Each district would use a combination of sales, live entertainment and other taxes that would be generated from a stadium development to help finance the project. The downtown proposal also includes a provision that would allow the imposition of a $1,000 assessment on parking spaces within 3,000 feet of the project.
“We plan on letting fans park where they want downtown and walk” to the stadium, said Scott Adams, the urban redevelopment officer for Las Vegas, of the reasoning behind the parking space assessment. “Each garage is going to benefit greatly from having the arena there.”
Each of the districts also fits with one of three proposals currently in the works, a retail, residential and sports project at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, that would return the football team to campus, a proposed baseball-soccer-football project west of Interstate 15 near Mandalay Bay, and a proposed sports arena in downtown Las Vegas.
The bill would prohibit the Clark County Commission from picking more than one district.
Testimony Thursday mostly focused on extensive presentations from backers of each proposal.
David Goldwater, a lobbyist behind the downtown Las Vegas proposal, told lawmakers he would like the bill changed to allow for general obligation bonds.
“This is an important financing mechanism to anyone who is going to develop anything,” Goldwater said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-477-3861.Ballot question
Gov. Brian Sandoval on Thursday signed Senate Bill 495, which creates a competing arena question for the November 2012 ballot.
Legislators are asking voters to oppose a tax increase sought by Caesars Entertainment, which already had qualified for the ballot.
That measure will ask voters to increase the sales tax rate by 0.9 percentage points to raise money to build a $500 million sports arena near the Imperial Palace. The tax would be imposed only in a three-mile radius of the proposed arena.
The competing measure will ask voters whether they want to keep the current sales tax rate, 8.1 percent, and to have the same sales tax rate throughout Clark County.
If that measure receives more votes, the arena financing bill would fail.
–By ED VOGEL