Businesses hope for boost this session |

Businesses hope for boost this session

Associated Press Writer

Local businesses are hoping for an economic boost now that lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers are headed back to town for the 2009 Legislature ” but given the tough economic times they’ve scaled back their expectations.

During the every-other-year legislative sessions, receptions are held at restaurants and casinos, vacant apartments are rented and downtown lunch spots become crowded with customers. More of the same is likely this year, but merchants question whether it will truly be business as usual.

“You’d have to be blind or just not very well informed not to understand that this session will not only be hotly contested, but also severely cut back on the amount of disposable cash that will be spent in the dining establishments,” said Adele’s restaurant owner Charlie Abowd.

Abowd, whose upscale, family-owned restaurant is popular with the state capital crowd, said he usually sees his restaurant’s revenues grow by 15 percent to 20 percent during legislative sessions.

This year, he noticed fewer receptions after Gov. Jim Gibbons’ State of the State address Jan. 15 and said he can’t predict whether his business will see its usual growth.

“If I was that good, I’d probably be sitting in front of one of the craps tables in town,” he said.

During the 120-day legislative session, Carson City will play host most days to 63 lawmakers, along with 225 staffers who arrive to supplement a permanent legislative staff, and a crowd of lobbyists there to influence the bill-making process. Many travel from Las Vegas and rent apartments, making Carson City their home until June.

The city’s finance director, Nick Providenti, said effect of the session is felt mostly by restaurants and bars. In March 2006, sales tax revenue decreased 2.4 percent from 2005, a legislative year. In March 2007, with a session under way, that revenue stream grew by 14.4 percent. The figure fell again by 3.7 percent in March 2008, a year when lawmakers didn’t meet.

“I think there is a boost from the session,” Providenti said.

During the fast-paced session, the social calendar for lawmakers is quickly filled with receptions and other events that are a boon to local cash registers.

“Often, receptions are the only way for associations, especially if they are new to the state, to meet anyone,” said Alfredo Alonso, a longtime lobbyist who represents a broad range of businesses. “I have no doubt that they will be significantly scaled back for obvious reasons this year.”

The first gathering, planned for Tuesday, demonstrates that trend. Mayor Bob Crowell moved Carson City’s welcome event from a casino to City Hall. He said the venue change will save the city more than $8,000.

“I just didn’t want to do anything ostentatious,” Crowell said. “I want the Legislature to feel comfortable coming to Carson City, and the idea is to welcome them. But we were not flush with cash, so I wanted to do something a little more low-key, more informal.”

Lobbyists also are cutting back.

Paul Enos, a lobbyist for the Nevada Motor Transport Association, said his association plans a less expensive breakfast reception.

Alonso, who usually brings four full-time staff members to Carson City, will have just two this session.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a reduction of the amount of lobbyists in the building on any given day, even if we have the same number registered,” said Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

More than 800 lobbyists are expected to register for the session, although only a quarter of the advocates tend to be on hand throughout the session. Many show up only for brief appearances.