Petition would give room taxes to the state

The first three initiative petitions of the 2008 election season were filed Monday.

Two would take part of the room tax revenue collected by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority to balance the state budget. The third would require initiatives get a two-thirds majority of voters to raise taxes.

More filings are expected today, the deadline for submitting signatures for both initiatives and referendums.

The petitions are submitted to Nevada's 17 county election officials " the county clerk in most cases. The clerks then count and verify whether each of the signers is a registered voter in that jurisdiction and report the total number of valid signatures to the Secretary of State's office. Furthermore, the signatures collected in each of Nevada's 17 counties must meet or exceed 10 percent of the voter turnout in that county during the last general election.

All three of the petitions submitted Monday were in part funded by Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Venetian and Sands Convention Center on the Las Vegas Strip. Two of them seek to take part of any new money generated by Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority room tax revenues for the state general fund.

Former Treasurer Bob Seale, who managed those two petition drives, said the petitions would allow LVCVA's money to grow by the rate of inflation each year. Growth above that, however, would go to the state.

He said the first alternative would pump all that extra money into public education. The second alternative would divide that money between schools, public safety and road construction. If both were to pass, by state law, the petition that received the most total votes would become the rule.

"This is a very clever, out-of-the-box solution," said Seale. "This provides for schools, roads and public safety without raising taxes."

Seale said it would start out as a relatively small amount of money, but grow significantly over the years.

"You have to understand that another 40-50,000 rooms are coming on in Clark County," he said.

He said the two petitions each collected about 110,000 signatures.

The third petition, managed by former Controller Steve Martin, collected a total of 120,000 signatures.

Martin said that constitutional change would require any initiative that raises taxes to pass by the same margin that tax increases must receive in the Nevada Legislature " a two-thirds majority.

He said groups like the teachers' union are using the ballot process instead of going to the Legislature because they don't have to win a two-thirds majority from the people.

The problem, he said, is that petitions don't receive the fiscal analysis legislative proposals do or the extensive hearings. He said too many unintended consequences sneak by in the petition process.

This constitutional change, he said, would "level the playing field," effectively encouraging groups to take tax proposals back to the Legislature which is much faster than the initiative process since an initiative must pass voter approval in two successive general elections. That takes a total of four to five years.

To get on the ballot, organizers must collect at least 58,628 valid signatures " 10 percent of the number who turned out in the last general election.

Several other petition drives are under way in Nevada. Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle is making another attempt to put a version of California Proposition 13, the property tax cap, on Nevada's ballot. She and supporters are expected to file their petitions today.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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