In exchange for supporting tax plan, Raggio will hit up Southern Nevada

I’m confident whatever plan legislative Democrats come up with to create a more stable tax base for Nevada will earn the support of Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno. But what will he extract from Southern Nevada in exchange?

At first, I presumed Raggio would hang tough to obtain the property tax shift that would take from Clark County to benefit the rest of the state. (Tax shift sounds so much nicer than tax grab.)

After all, Raggio’s wanted that for years because it squeezes Clark County and helps smaller counties. Everyone knows Clark County workers are paid more than the state workers or those in the other entities, so obviously Clark County has money to burn … er … spare.

Some say my assumption is right, others say it’s wrong, but since the Legislature begins Monday and won’t end until June 1, there’s plenty of time for me to be wrong … or right.

When Gov. Jim Gibbons mentioned he supported this idea in his State of the State speech, it was not quite as blunt as my version. Gibbons said the state needed “creative solutions” to help the state’s budget in the short term. “That is why I am also proposing a temporary reallocation of some revenues from our most populous counties to the state general fund to help us through these challenging times.” The most populous county he referred to? Clark County.

Raggio, 82, was first elected in 1972 and I admire how skillfully he works the process. Smooth operator doesn’t begin to describe his political skills. Although he hates it when I bring up the power struggle between Northern and Southern Nevada, Raggio has done more for Northern Nevada than any legislator I’ve ever seen. When he is forced out by term limits, the north will lose one of its most skilled champions. Of course, I loathe it when he uses those same skills to kill ethics reform bills and campaign finance reform, so you can call this not quite a love-hate relationship, but something along the lines of an admire-despise relationship.

For years, he’s tried without success to decrease property tax dollars that go to counties and cities and send the money to the state, where legislators can parcel it out wherever they want. Clark County officials used their muscle and successfully fought it off session after session.

After Gibbons’ speech, Clark County’s response was that losing from $32 million to $47 million a year in property taxes to state coffers would mean cuts in programs. The impact was described as “enormous,” because it would be money lost every year.

(Of course, on Tuesday, commissioners will approve a $56 million payment to AF Construction and its insurer to settle dueling lawsuits over the construction of the Regional Justice Center, problems where an arbitrator found the county bore more responsibility than the contractor. Can’t wait to hear what the loss of that money will mean to Clark County.)

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley disagreed with my speculation that a tax shift is Raggio’s asking price to support whatever plan the Democrats eventually propose to counter the governor’s budget.

The Democratic control of the Senate is slight (12-9) so a minimum of two Republicans will have to support any plan that includes a tax increase (not that a tax increase has been proposed!) so that there will be a two-thirds majority. That presumes that first time Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford has what it takes to keep the Democrats solidly behind him. Another major presumption.

“I think the Senate Republicans and Senator Raggio will be working in a bipartisan manner toward ensuring there are no draconian cuts,” Buckley said. “He has spent much of his legislative career building a vibrant university system, especially at UNR, and he’s not going to want to see all that dismantled. It’s interesting, Gibbons’ actions helped ensure that reasonable Republicans have to work on a solution. In a way, he helped us.”

Let’s watch to see what else Sen. Raggio wants … and gets. Could the tax shift be a shill to hide something else he wants? With him, it’s hard to tell.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison/.

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