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Potential conflicts emerge early in budget review

by Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

It took only an hour or so into the first day of hearings Tuesday before lawmakers raised objections to some items in Gov. Kenny Guinn’s budget and tax package.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, questioned the proposed amusement and entertainment tax, saying it seems to unfairly exempt activities enjoyed by those with higher incomes while penalizing the things the young and poorer people enjoy.

“I don’t want to be letting golfers and skiers off while people going to the movies or renting a video have to pay,” Leslie said.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, agreed saying the proposal would put a 7.3 percent tax on video rentals, but exempt expensive country club memberships.

“That doesn’t seem fair,” she said.

Leslie said people aren’t going to support new taxes “unless we can show we’re implementing taxes fairly across the board.”

Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said that raises the issue that will haunt lawmakers throughout the process of deciding on new taxes and the budget.

“As soon as you propose a new tax, somebody proposes an exemption,” he said. “And as soon as you do an exemption, the remaining taxes have to go up to make up the revenue.”

A second issue was raised by Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, when Budget Director Perry Comeaux described the governor’s $24 million budget to start full-day kindergarten in 416 “at-risk” schools across the state.

Raggio pointed out that $18 million of the money was for the teachers and the rest for the added classrooms it will take.

“Aren’t we opening a wide door there when we begin to pay for facilities?” he asked. Historically, the state pays for students but the counties buy and build classrooms and other facilities.

“I think we are opening a door because if we create new programs in the future, they’ll expect us to provide the facilities,” said Hettrick.

Comeaux said the idea was to give school districts some time to build the facilities, not to set a precedent. He got some support for Giunchigliani who said she supports the idea of full-day kindergarten but believes it’s still “an unfunded mandate because we are creating the programs that drive those facility needs.”

“If we create programs, we ought to help them get up to speed on those needs,” she said.

The exchanges highlighted the opening round of what will be two weeks of budget briefings for the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees. They followed what was an enthusiastic reception for most of Guinn’s proposed programs, but a lukewarm reception for his proposed tax increases.

After that, the two committees will spend the 2003 Legislature reviewing every account in the governor’s proposed budget in detail.