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Guinn Waffles While Wynn Wins Again

RENO (April 6, 1999) - Bad news for taxpayers was reported on many fronts yesterday. In Reno Tuesday evening, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R), addressed the Washoe County Democratic Central Committee. He focused mostly on the state's budgetary famine in times of plenty and on education.

On one hand, I noted, he has been praised for vetoing a fee increase which would have brought about $12,000 per year to state government. The Las Vegas Review-Journal praised his action in an editorial.

The Nevada Republican Liberty Caucus this week notified its list-serve that because of the veto, Gov. Dudley Do-Right has been nominated for a "Friend of the Taxpayer" award from Americans for Tax Reform. However, a tax increase he just signed dwarfs that small gesture.

On March 30, Gov. Guinn signed Senate Bill 255 into law just in time to impose an April 1 sales tax increase on Washoe County (Reno/Sparks). For complete details, please read my column entitled "Stabbing the Taxpayer on the Ides of March".

On Tuesday evening, I asked Gov. Guinn to please reconcile his no-tax stance given these seemingly contradictory actions and in light of last week's hearing on Senate Bill 477.

On April Fool's Day, Reno-Sparks casino interests showed up en masse to support SB 477, a bill to impose a major increase in Washoe County room taxes. When Sen. Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas, asked if the governor would break his no-tax pledge by signing such a measure, casino lobbyist Harvey Whittemore assured the Senate Committee on Taxation that the governor does not consider this type of taxation as falling within his no-tax pledge as the tax is paid by tourists.

Testifying in opposition, I noted that some of our room tax is paid by low-wage Nevada workers who live in weekly motels because they cannot qualify for apartments. (The legislature is also processing Assembly Bill 540 which will give casinos $500,000 in tax breaks to build low-cost housing for such workers, throwing tax money at a problem by handing cash to those who cause it. Go figure.)

Responding to my question at the Washoe Democratic meeting Tuesday night, Gov. Guinn said he has sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Speaker Joe Dini, D-Yerington, clarifying his position. He said that he will only veto "anything affecting the general operating budget which I control."

Gov. Guinn said he will continue to sign into law taxes and fees which voters approve or which their local officials impose upon them. He gave Douglas County's voter-approved sales tax increase as an example, as well as Washoe County's, which was imposed by lame duck county commissioners, not voters. He will thus be signing the room tax increase called for in SB 477, he noted.

The governor's argument for local control was eerily similar to that given by Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, at a recent town hall meeting. Mr. Anderson voted with the assembly majority to retroactively ratify the sales tax increases in SB 255, part of a package to depress the downtown Reno Union Pacific Railroad tracks. His constituents did not warmly receive his explanation.

I have made the above facts known to Americans for Tax Reform and suggest that anyone who cares to should post a message at their website.

     GOV. GUINN TALKS TO DEMOCRATS (April 6, 1999) — GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn, left, talks politics with longtime senior citizens activist Orland T.Outland before addressing the Washoe County Demcratic Central Committee at Vaughn Middle School in Reno. Outland, a trustee of the Nevada Council of Senior Citizens and twice-chair of Common Cause Nevada, asked the governor about improving outreach programs to inform those of humble means that prescription drugs remain available when Medicaid dollars are not.

     Outland asked if the governor would devote any tobacco lawsuit settlement money toward outreach and payment of premiums for the program. The governor replied that there would be no cigarette money for the program. Outland writes a weekly column on senior citizens issues for the Daily Sparks Tribune and a monthly column in Senior Spectrum.

Wynn Wins Again

CARSON CITY (April 6, 1999) - Taxpayers took another beating Tuesday afternoon. Senate Bill 90 was killed by the Senate Committee on Taxation. Sponsored by Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, it would have repealed Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn's tax loophole for his high-priced casino art collections. The break is estimated to cost taxpayers about $18 million a year. Neal testified before the Nevada Tax Commission last year that it would be against the law for Mr. Wynn to charge Nevada school children to see artwork already costing their schools millions in lost tax funds. The commission agreed and Wynn sued the commission. The case has not yet come to trial.

Supporting Neal's repeal were Las Vegas Sens. Bob Coffin (D) and Ann O'Connell (R). Voting to kill the repeal were Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, and Mike McGinness, R-Fallon.

The committee then turned to SB 521, Wynn's bill, lobbied by the abovementioned Mr. Whittemore. Senate Bill 521 would outright give Mr. Wynn his art tax break and throw a bone to Nevadans, half-price admission to what the San Francisco Chronicle noted as "pro-rated on a per-painting basis...the most expensive museum in the world" to get into.

Only Sen. Neal opposed setting Wynn's loophole in cement. The most shocking result is that a majority of the committee (Coffin, O'Connell, McGinness, Neal), voted against the Wynn loophole when Wynn first pushed it through in 1997.

The current legislation says Wynn will donate any leftover admission fees, after costs are deducted, to charity. Any student of Hollywood accounting knows that a net gets awfully hard to find after creative accountants get done deducting all those pesky costs. (See "Casino Seeks Tax Break for Art's Sake" in the 4-12-99 New York Times.)

Sen. Neal salvaged one thing after being savaged by the taxation committee. He asked the Chairman McGinness when he would hold a hearing on Neal's two bills to repeal the sales tax on hearing aids (SB 405 and SB 406). Sen. McGinness said he would schedule them for Thursday, April 8, so that they would have a chance of making Friday's deadline for senate passage of all surviving legislation.

The Ghosts of Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann

As readers of my Sunday Sparks Tribune column noted, property tax protestors have been fearful that Assembly Joint Resolution 17 would not get a hearing. Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Reno/Sparks Northern Valleys, introduced a Nevada version of California's 1976 property tax-limiting Proposition 13.

Apparently, the protestors prevailed. Ted Harris of Nevadans for Fair Taxation reports that assembly taxation committee chair David Goldwater "has scheduled a hearing on AJR 17, Thursday, April 8, at 1:00 p.m. in room 3142. If we get a yes vote from the taxation committee, this will be followed by a hearing with the (assembly) constitutional amendments committee at 3:30 p.m. in room 4100. Plan on spending the afternoon as we are not certain how long this will take."

[Editor's note: Goldwater on April 12 announced that further hearings will be necessary to amend the bill and promised to bring it to a vote.]

So there's a little something to cheer about in both the upper and lower houses.

Go to Guinn Watch

Go to JoeNeal.org






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