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EDITORIAL: Property tax bill deserves a quick trip to the shredder

The benefit of competitive political districts is that they force elected officials to moderate their worst instincts and even to reach across the aisle from time to time. The same can’t be said for gerrymandered or “safe” seats.

Consider state Sen. Dina Neal, a Democrat from North Las Vegas. Ms. Neal served five terms in the Assembly, routinely winning more than 70 percent of the vote in her heavily Democratic district. She moved to the upper chamber in 2020, routing her Republican opponent with more than 75 percent support.

Comfortably ensconced in her position, Ms. Neal hasn’t shied away from sponsoring controversial legislation. She is the driving force behind a proposal to pay Nevada inmates minimum wage for the work they do behind bars. And now, Ms. Neal has unveiled Senate Bill 96, a legislative proposal to ensure that state property owners are on the hook for higher taxes.

Clearly, Ms. Neal isn’t trying to win a popularity contest.

Under current law, annual residential property tax hikes are capped each year at a maximum of 3 percent. Levies on commercial and rental properties can increase no more than 8 percent. The limits were imposed during the 2005 session to prevent rising home values from imposing punitive taxes on homeowners.

Ms. Neal’s bill would put an annual 3 percent property tax hike on cruise control, preventing the levy from ever falling below that threshold even during a recession or when real estate values decline. This is intended to “stabilize revenue” for local governments, she maintains.

In fact, Nevada’s government revenues — notwithstanding the pandemic or the Great Recession — have been stable, as in up and up, for decades as growth has driven healthy tax collections. But heaven forbid that state and local governments should be forced to re-evaluate priorities and live within their means when the lean times arrive. Just keep that IV hooked up to the beleaguered taxpayers.

“Nevada does not have a revenue problem,” Alida Benson of the Nevada Republican Party told lawmakers. “It has a spending problem.” She noted that Ms. Neal’s tax proposal threatened to further burden Nevada families struggling with continued inflation.

Thankfully, Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996 passed a constitutional amendment mandating that any tax hikes be approved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature. Democrats enjoy a supermajority in the Assembly but are just one vote shy of that hurdle in the Senate. There is not likely to be any GOP support for this money grab.

It’s also not entirely clear whether Democrats would unanimously fall in line behind SB96, particularly those lawmakers who, unlike Ms. Neal, don’t have the luxury of rarely having to worry about an election opponent.

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