Budget, taxes top concerns

Chiropractor Joseph Nicola grew up in Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean he’ll live the rest of his years here.

These days, Nicola said he spends way too much time dodging the rocky shoals of a broken economy, maneuvering between Scylla and Charybdis, falling revenue on one side and rising business fees on the other.

Nicola blamed lower insurance reimbursement rates for his practice’s revenue declines. Business is up, but it takes longer than ever to extract payment from insurers, who seem every day to find "more unique and creative ways to deny claims," he said.

That scarcer revenue has to cover higher business costs. Nicola’s license to own an X-ray machine? It’s jumped from about $150 annually a couple of years ago to $500 a year now. His chiropractor’s license? It costs more here than it would in neighboring California. His office furniture, his computers, his equipment? All taxed annually, even though he paid a sales tax when he bought the goods.

"That’s how they spell ‘tax’ in Nevada — ‘F-E-E,’" Nicola said. "There aren’t necessarily taxes, but they charge fees on everything, and some of those fees have doubled in the last two years."

Nicola echoes a common complaint among local businesspeople. The state’s budget and taxes took the top spot by far in a recent Review-Journal poll asking Southern Nevada professionals to list the most important issues the Nevada Legislature must address when its session begins Feb. 2. Nevada’s fiscal climate came in well ahead of previous surveys’ big issues, including education and infrastructure. Those two topics ranked a distant second and fourth in December’s poll, with the state’s high foreclosure rate placing third.

Other topics business managers and executives said they’d like to see the Legislature deal with include the Nevada Clean Air Act’s ban on smoking where food is served, and the effect that’s having on restaurants and taverns; homeowners’ association regulations; economic diversification; insurance reimbursement rates to doctors; and jobs and population growth.

But the state’s budget and taxes lead the way, simply because few other issues matter if Nevada can’t iron out funding for basic services, said Diane Fearon, president and chief executive officer of Bank of George and a survey respondent who, like Nicola, picked the state budget and taxes as her No. 1 legislative issue in 2009.

If they agree on the key concern confronting the Nevada Legislature, businesspeople agree less on how to approach Nevada’s fiscal woes. Asked to choose from cutting pay for state workers, paring program expenditures and increasing taxes, the largest number suggested a combination of some or all of those choices. Reducing pay and benefits for public-sector workers came in second, with program cuts following third. Increasing taxes proved the most unpopular solution.

Place Fearon in the combination camp.

She said she hasn’t yet studied the state’s budget in detail, so she didn’t want to identify specific potential spending cuts or tax increases. But she said it would be tough to close a gap between projected revenue and the Nevada budget without looking at all options.

"It is not responsible to increase budget outflows at the same time that inflows are decreased," she said. "However, the safety net of civilized society requires that basic needs must be met for our citizens."

Fearon said she’d also like legislators to consider the gap between bank taxes and levies on other businesses. Banks in Nevada pay a 2 percent payroll tax, while all other businesses pay 0.7 percent on gross payroll.

Survey respondent Allen Puliz also opted for a combination of measures to address the state’s finances. But his combination excludes tax increases. He’d rather see cuts in state workers’ compensation, as well as reductions in program expenditures. That’s because higher taxes could force him to lay off more employees beyond the 22 percent of workers he’s already let go at The Puliz Cos., a statewide moving and storage business.

"I wish the government could cut enough, but I don’t think they will," Puliz said. "Our government is incapable of cutting. They never have cut. Do a little graph on what government has spent for the last 10 years. It’s always been a straight-up line."

Interior designer Leslie Parraguirre said she has different priorities. Education rates as Parraguirre’s biggest concern, and tax increases could help the local school system’s funding crunch, she wrote. She doesn’t want to see further cuts in education.

"We have had a sweet ride in the area of taxes," she wrote in the survey. "Surely, we could pony up for the children of our state."

Asked in an interview to elaborate on her comments, Parraguirre said the quality of local schools helps determine whether new residents want to move to Las Vegas, so a struggling educational system carries long-term implications for the community’s vitality. Plus, as a business owner, she wants to draw her staffers from a broad pool of well-trained critical thinkers.

Parraguirre said she’s grown concerned enough about local schools that she recently pulled her 14-year-old daughter out of a public school in Summerlin and enrolled her in a private school for the first time. It’s not that Parraguirre — whose husband, state Supreme Court Justice Ron Parraguirre, volunteered to take a $30,000 pay cut because of the state’s fiscal situation — wants to pay higher taxes. It’s that she thinks education should come first.

"I wish people would stop focusing on new taxes being such a heavy hit and start thinking more about the longevity of our community," she said.

But Nicola said he and other associates in the small-business world can’t sustain any more expenses. They want cost-cutting first. In an economy where consumers scrounge for values and make discretionary purchases only when they think they’ve found a bargain, covering higher taxes by raising prices isn’t going to swing it for many smaller operators, he said. Nevada runs many viable and important programs, he acknowledged, but it’s time to gauge what services work and abandon the initiatives that fail.

"In hard economic times, you have to take a hard-line stance on what programs are really working. Evaluate them based on how much benefit they offer for the amount of money we’re spending on them," he said. "If statistics show a program isn’t helping people or changing their lives, then that program needs to go away."

The alternative, new taxes, could push Nicola and other entrepreneurs to relocate. A gross-receipts tax, for example, would collect money from businesses that didn’t even post profits. A company might turn $1 million in sales, experience a loss and need a line of credit to cover a gross-receipts tax, and that would "cripple" small operators, Nicola said. He said he knows several small-business owners who would leave Nevada if they faced such a levy.

"The frustration for a lot of business owners involves the fees we get walloped with here in Las Vegas and in Nevada in general," he said. "We don’t have an income tax, but every business fee is five to 10 times higher than it seems to be in every other state. All these different little fees add up, and it gets burdensome. Every other month, a new fee comes in, and you have to write another check."

If taxes and fees increase and legislators fail to reform insurance-reimbursement practices, Nicola said he’d consider moving to Texas, Arizona or Washington, none of which seem to have the reimbursement problems of Nevada.

To survey participant Frank Martin, embracing wage cuts at the state level would be almost heroic.

Martin, president and chief executive officer of Martin-Harris Construction, laid off 35 percent of his staff in late 2008. He’s frozen wages for 2009, and he and his senior managers volunteered to turn back their pay to levels they earned on Jan. 1, 2007. Those types of measures prevail among his peers in the local construction sector, he said.

Martin called Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons’s suggestion for 6 percent pay cuts for state workers "courageous," and he noted that the alternative to smaller paychecks is none too pleasant.

"The next step, instead of a (pay) rollback, is to simply cut the number of employees," Martin said.

Nor does Martin think it’s wise to raise taxes on struggling businesses. Local casinos have seen their revenue slip by double digits in the last year, and they have the layoffs to match their dwindling sales.

"Why should government employees be isolated from everything that happens in the private sector? When things get good again, you can start allowing people to catch up, but during this period, all of us have to hurt," Martin said.

If the Legislature does decide to raise taxes, Puliz said he’d prefer an increase in the sales tax, perhaps expanding it to cover services. Such a tax would affect all purchasers equally. Plus, there’s an existing infrastructure to collect sales taxes, so governments would need less new bureaucracy to implement an altered sales-tax regime. By contrast, a gross-receipts tax would unfairly target unprofitable firms, and a hotel-room tax could turn off tourists in a newly price-conscious environment.

"I’d rather not see tax increases, but my gut’s telling me we will have some," Puliz said. "Hopefully, they’ll at least keep it reasonable. Usually, when people say we have to redo our whole tax system, that means they want to make government bigger."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Wild Wings security video
Security footage from a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in southwest Las Vegas captured a driver who repeatedly crashed into a vehicle in a failed attempt to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Navigating the new I-515 southbound to 215 Beltway ramp configuration
After opening at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, the new Interstate 515 southbound to the 215 Beltway westbound freeway ramp configuration caused confusion amongst motorist. Here’s how to navigate the new ramp. (Mick Akers/ Las Vegas Review-Journal).
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like