Nevada Legislature: Uber letdown: Tax fails in Senate |

Nevada Legislature: Uber letdown: Tax fails in Senate

Nevada Senate Democrats Debbie Smith and Aaron Ford listen to Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, during Senate floor debate at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., on Friday, May 8, 2015. Lawmakers voted down a bill allowing for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft in a 13-7 vote that was one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)
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The bill to raise money for the UNLV Medical School and possibly provide more funding for Western Nevada and Great Basin Colleges by taxing taxicabs and ride sharing services such as Uber failed in the Senate Friday, falling just one vote short of a two-thirds majority.

The vote came after Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, questioned estimates AB175 would generate up to $100 million over the biennium, mostly through a 3 percent tax on all cab and ride-share fares.

“Be assured it will raise at least the $19 million to fund the medical school,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

She asked if fiscal staff generated the revenue projections and was told by Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, that fiscal “has indicated it is a little bit difficult to ascertain how much money will come in because we have not done something like this before.” But he and Roberson said the estimates have been looked at by a variety of parties.

“It’s a disappointment,” said Settelmeyer. “Sadly, the taxicab cartels have won again. People have chosen not to fund the UNLV medical school. That’s their decision.”

Settelmeyer said the 3 percent tax would generate some $25 million from the more than $800 million in fares by cabs alone in 2014. He said fares charged by Uber and other ride sharing services would greatly add to that total as would business license taxes paid by those drivers.

Roberson said the Uber bill is critical to funding the creation of the UNLV medical school and must be passed.

“If not, I don’t know where the money will come from,” he said.

The debate halted after Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, asked for a one-minute recess and left the chambers with Roberson. When they returned, Ford asked to delay a vote until Monday.

Roberson rejected that and called the vote.

Inside sources said the reason Roberson refused was Ford had earlier agreed to support the bill on the floor but changed his mind and backed out of that commitment unless the vote was delayed.

Smith said she doesn’t oppose ride-hailing and thinks the services will be regulated in Nevada by the time the session ends, but voted no because she had her doubts about the revenue projection and wanted legislative fiscal staff to verify the number before voting on the bill.

Smith said after the vote she didn’t appreciate being told she had to vote for anything.

“We have been trying for years to get a tax package passed and they (Republicans) wouldn’t do it,” said Smith. “Don’t tell me I have to vote for anything.”

Uber briefly operated in Nevada last fall before a judge issued a restraining order against the company, saying it wasn’t following rules for taxicabs.

A proposal to create a separate framework for ride-hailing services has become one of the most-lobbied issues of the legislative session, with both cab companies and Uber hiring small armies of powerful lobbyists to push their cause.

Democrats cast the deciding votes in April against SB439, the original proposal regulating Uber. A new compromise bill that emerged Thursday with Democratic support, AB175, would impose a 3 percent tax on the total fare for rides through a cab company or a ride-hailing company.

That would have raised enough revenue to fill a budget gap, provide money for road construction through the state Highway Fund and put another $19 million toward building a medical school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

One lobbyist involved in the issue pointed out in the Legislature nothing is dead until the body adjourns.

Ford said Democrats only sought a few more days while staff reviewed the revenue estimates.