Assembly Bill 46 and its companion, Senate Bill 1, were measures from the last session in which legislators avoided voting for tax increases by delegating their taxing power to the Washoe and Clark County Commissions, respectively.
AB 46 authorized an increase in real estate and sales taxes to provide funds earmarked for the Washoe County School District’s capital projects account (the “School Tax”). Proponents groaned because the Washoe Commission has four Republicans and one Democrat.
SB1 authorized an increase in Clark County sales taxes to hire more police (the “Cop Tax”). Opponents groaned because the Clark County Commission consists of seven Democrats.
Each county commission was given authority to impose all, part or none of the permitted tax increases but there had to be at least a 2/3 commission vote because the legislature itself constitutionally must have a 2/3 vote to increase taxes.
Even so, the constitutionality of both bills was immediately questioned by conservative organizations but for now the question is unlikely to be brought before the Nevada Supreme Court.
In Washoe County the localizing of a tax increase authority immediately galvanized people on both sides of the School Tax issue. PTA’s, the teacher union and the Washoe School District itself delved into the task of convincing county commissioners to approve the measure.
The Washoe County Republican Central Committee approved a multi-part resolution strongly opposing it and local conservative groups joined in. Prominent among opponents was Incline’s former county commissioner Jim Galloway.
The merits and drawbacks of the school tax were hashed out and argued in county commission hearings, Washoe County’s website, newspaper opinion columns, letters to the editor, talk radio and the blogosphere.
One local discovered the results of a recent independent audit of the WCSD on the district’s own website disclosing numerous serious problems with its Facilities Management and Capital Projects Department.
Unlike the pitched battle anticipated in Washoe County, SB 1 was considered a slam dunk because taxing authority was delegated to an all Democrat commission and earmarked for hiring more cops, a popular issue for both Democrats and Republicans.
It didn’t turn out that way. Voters became informed of some outsized salaries enjoyed by senior Las Vegas Metropolitan Police and began to pressure commissioners. The Metro police themselves began to lobby for authority to use SB 1 funds to pay administrative expenses and salary increases, not just to hire new cops.
It was also discovered that an earlier Cop Tax fund had a $139 million balance, sufficient to last until the year 2025.
As these things came to light some commissioners began to back off their support. A motion to approve the tax failed; a motion to approve one half of the tax increase almost passed. As of this writing, the Clark County matter is still undecided.
In Washoe County, AB 46 garnered only one vote in the county commission and is now dead and buried.
Commissioners expressed concerns about the lack of a public vote, lack of transparency by the school district, inaccurate and overzealous claims by proponents and questionable competency of WCSD to administer a construction fund.
And in Clark County SB1, initially thought to be a dead certainty, is hanging by a thread.
In the legislature proposals are almost entirely supported/opposed by well-paid lobbyists. Homeowners and consumers do not have political operatives looking out for their interest at the state level.
Both AB 46 and SB 1 could have easily passed in Carson City except for a distaste by solons from both parties to raise taxes prior to an election year.
I respectfully submit that the results in both Washoe and Clark Counties reflect the direct involvement and enthusiasm of voters to convince their local representatives of their points of view.
That’s pretty close to direct democracy, not some cloakroom deal.
And that’s a good thing.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.