Nevada Senate debates ‘green’ tax exemptions for big companies
Associated Press Writer
The Republican-controlled Nevada Senate voted Thursday to reject two amendments from Democrats that would have further limited “green” building tax breaks so that local and state governments don’t lose too much revenue.
The Senate killed amendments from Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, and Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, and instead supported a more generous version of AB621 pushed by Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno.
Care’s amendment, rejected on a voice vote, would have revoked the breaks for several companies that argued they should qualify for the full tax abatement passed in 2005. Under Townsend’s version of the bill, companies that applied for the tax breaks before February 2007 will get the full 2005 tax breaks.
MGM Mirage has said it plans to use green building methods on seven projects in its $7 billion City Center project in Las Vegas, and would qualify for $80 million in sales tax breaks alone under Townsend’s plan. Other companies that would benefit include Boyd Gaming Corp., Molasky Companies, and MGM Mirage, and Patagonia in Reno.
Both sides said they were following the advice of legislative lawyers. Care argued that lawyers had found that lawmakers could revoke the tax breaks at any time, while Townsend said his version of the bill was the most “legally defensible” position, and raised the threat of large public companies suing the state.
“This was never an issue of who was in and out,” said Townsend. “This was about what is defensible. Whoever fell in fell in. Whoever fell out, fell out.”
Opponents of Townsend’s approach pointed out that the state could still be sued by companies that aren’t among the favored few to have applied before his February deadline.
Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said Townsend was favoring some of the state’s biggest companies, while allowing a homeowner green building tax break to fall by the wayside.
“We’ve made a mistake here, and we have to go back and do an adjustment of some sort,” said Schneider. “It is embarrassing. This is a billion-dollar mistake, is what this is. It’s huge.”
Titus proposed her own amendment, which would have limited the tax breaks going forward. Her amendment would have limited future green tax breaks to no more than 20 percent of total property taxes. Under Townsend’s version of the bill, property tax breaks were capped at 35 percent.
“I know it’s awkward, but we did everything in haste two years ago,” said Titus. “That’s what you get with a citizens’ legislature that’s confined to a 120-day session. I just think the price tag for letting this go is excessive.”
Both Townsend’s and Titus’ versions of the bill included exemptions that protected school revenues, and eliminated sales tax breaks.
The Senate defeated the amendment on a mostly party-line 9-12 vote. Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, voted for Townsend’s larger tax breaks, saying the state can afford the larger breaks, and should keep its word to the applicants.