Senate panel adjusts Nevada tax plan downward

A Nevada Senate panel on Monday rejected eight tax proposals while adjusting its overall package downward, but lawmakers held out hope of advancing a tax bill that could fund spending already approved by fiscal panels.

The modified Senate Taxation Committee plan would generate $559 million in new revenues -- though budget committees say they'll need at least $800 million to pay for Nevada's two-year budget.

Senators noted that they haven't yet actually voted a bill out of committee and will offer a number of floor amendments -- some likely to bring a gutted SB238 closer to the Assembly Democratic leadership's nearly $1 billion tax plan.

Lawmakers were waiting for a definite tax and spending target to emerge from negotiations between Assembly and Senate leadership on K-12 education spending. The schools plan is a key gap between the two houses on an approximately $4.8 billion, two-year budget.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly Ways and Means Committee wants to spend about $230 million more in spending than the GOP-controlled Senate Finance Committee. Talks between top lawmakers on the budget plan continued late Monday.

Sen. Mike McGinness said his tax panel would meet again Tuesday to review other proposed taxes on businesses, hotel rooms, and possibly a new increase in the casino levy. The Fallon Republican said he's hoping to advance legislation that would cover approved spending but "If it's $1 billion, I don't know if the committee can get there."

His tax panel adjusted its previously approved $730 million two-year tax plan downward by deciding that a property tax increase couldn't start until 2005. It also delayed implementation of a real estate transfer tax by three months.

It did approve a new 8 percent tax on live entertainment at casinos and other venues, expected to raise $41 million over the biennium.

But in a series of votes, the two Democrats and five Republicans decided against further consideration of the so-called Universal or Unified Business Tax, a 7 percent bank tax, and several other proposals.

Asked whether the panel was headed the right direction, Sen. Joe Neal said, "We're going to get there."

"Tomorrow, you'll probably see something different," the North Las Vegas Democrat said of the shifting tax plan. Lawmakers are expected to approve tax and appropriations bills in the final days of the legislative session which ends June 2.

The distributive school account was the only budget not yet closed by the legislative spending committees.

Key senators and Assembly members disagreed on issues including class-size reduction requirements, all-day kindergarten and teacher pay raises and signing bonuses. But Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani said the two sides could agree quickly.

"It's been the best negotiations I've been part of," the Las Vegas Democrat said of the closed-door talks. She's part of the Democrats' negotiating team.

Also Monday, a joint money subcommittee on capital improvement projects approved almost $218 million in spending for construction and maintenance projects. The vast majority of the money will come from bond issues.

Among the building projects will be a 150-bed psychiatric hospital in southern Nevada. The state mental health administrator has been pushing for the new $32 million hospital, expected to cut long wait times for psychiatric patients in hospital emergency rooms.


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