State Democrats have filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Jim Gibbons, saying he abused his power to get thousands of dollars in a property tax break for 40 acres of land he owns in rural Elko County.
A spokesman for the governor said he welcomed an investigation by the state ethics panel.
"This will be a good opportunity to prove that the governor did nothing wrong," Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said.
State records show the first-term Republican governor lowered his annual property tax liability to $15 from about $5,000 by getting the land designated as agricultural rather than residential.
Nevada allows agricultural property tax breaks to help farmers and ranchers who eke out a living from the state's harsh landscape. In the early 1990s, the Legislature, concerned that people wealthy enough to buy elbow room were taking advantage of the agricultural deferment, raised the annual farming income threshold on tax-deferred land to require they take in at least $5,000 from agricultural uses.
Previously only $1,500 a year was required.
Elko County Assessor Joe Aguirre has told The Associated Press that he first objected to the designation of Gibbons' land, then allowed the change to take effect after requests from the governor and an attorney who serves on the Nevada Tax Commission.
"To say I was put in an awkward position I think is an understatement," Aguirre, a Republican, told The Associated Press.
The complaint was mailed Saturday by the Nevada Democratic Party to the state Commission on Ethics.
Gibbons "pressured and prevailed upon a a longtime public servant who sought only to apply the laws of this state fairly and accurately," Travis Brock, executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party, said in the complaint. "This is both unethical and unbecoming of the highest executive officer of the state."
The ethics commission enforces ethics laws that keep public officials from abusing their positions. Three of the eight members of the commission were appointed by Gibbons.
Violations can be punished by fines of up to $5,000 plus twice the benefit an official found of wrongdoing received.
In the complaint, the Democrats accuse Gibbons of inflating the income he earned from the land in order to qualify for the tax break.
Kieckhefer said Gibbons acted appropriately to maintain the tax status of the land.
"The governor has not in any way pressured the assessor to do anything," Kieckhefer said. "He did nothing wrong, and any investigation will show that."
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com