Budget, taxes, dominate Legislature

The budget and taxes will dominate the Nevada Legislature as the session enters its 14th week Monday.

Democratic lawmakers on Thursday unveiled their long-awaited tax plan that, along with additional projected revenues, would generate $1.5 billion over the next two years.

The proposal includes lifting the sunset on taxes set to expire June 30; a gradual phase out the modified business tax in favor of a margins tax paid on business revenue; and implementing a 1 percent to 4 percent tax on some services.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said they hoped the proposal would be a starting point for discussion on revamping Nevada's tax structure that is heavily reliant on tourism and casino taxes - two revenue sources prone to economic volatility.

Democrats on money committees already voted to add back about $650 million to K-12 education budgets, and expressed intent to add back $123 million for Nevada's universities and community colleges.

Horsford said he was not drawing a line in the sand with Republicans or the governor.

"They are options, not demands," he said at a town hall meeting last week to announce the proposal. "They are dialogue-starters, not lines to be taken. Unlike others, we're not making any promises that begin with 'no.' We want to be flexible."

But the plan was met with immediate opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have stood solidly behind Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval's no-new-tax stance.

Democrats who control the Senate and Assembly by slim margins - though not by enough to pass a tax increase without some Republican support - expect to introduce the plan in bill form this week.

While the tax debate simmers, Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees will plow ahead with budget closings with an eye toward a June 6 adjournment. On Monday, the panels will meet jointly to close budgets for the Public Employees Retirement System, Public Employees Benefit Program, Department of Transportation, state controller and Legislative Counsel Bureau.

Key measures sought by the governor will be debated Tuesday by the money committees when they discuss 5 percent salary cuts for state employees, continued suspension of merit and longevity pay; and elimination of premium holiday pay, a move that mostly affects public safety workers.

Budgets for the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation will be considered Wednesday, along with Cultural Affairs, the Department of Business and Industry, Commission on Tourism and the Indian Affairs Commission.

The Division of Child and Family Services and welfare programs will be closed Thursday. The money panels conclude Friday with budgets for the Department of Administration, Industrial Relations and the Colorado River Commission.

Senate Judiciary on Monday considers AB56 giving the attorney general's office subpoena powers for documents to investigate Medicaid fraud. Votes are possible on bills dealing with court fees, use of force and the use of restraints on pregnant inmates.

The Senate Education Committee that day hears AB225, which provides additional probation periods for teachers and administrators, and AB229 involving teacher accountability and performance. Assembly Education, meanwhile, takes up SB315, which allows for alternative licensing procedures for teachers and administrators; and SB365, which eliminates certain mandates on school districts.

On Tuesday, Senate Transportation will hear testimony on AB384, which could lead to quieter neighborhoods near railroad tracks. The bill would exempt an engineer from having to blow the train whistle in a quiet zone recognized by federal regulation.

Senate Judiciary on Wednesday will hear AB282 concerning concealed weapon permits. Among other things, it would make the names of permit holders and information on applications confidential. It also would streamline the permitting process, allowing permits to be issued for a type of weapon - such as a revolver or semi-automatic - instead of each individual gun.

Also that day, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources will hear AB322. The bill gives the governor more discretion in appointing the director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Under existing law, the governor must pick a director from candidates nominated by the state Wildlife Commission.

Commercial dog and cat breeders would be required to obtain permits from local governments under SB299, to be heard Thursday by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining, while mo-ped owners would be required to register their wheels and wear a helmet while riding them under AB508, to be considered by Senate Transportation.

On Friday, the Senate Education Committee considers AB455, a bill to require the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association to adopt policies to prevent and treat concussions suffered by student athletes.


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