Spending petition begins gathering signatures | NevadaAppeal.com

Spending petition begins gathering signatures

by Geoff Dornan

Appeal Capitol Bureau

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, talks to reporters after filing papers Monday at the Secretary of State's office for a plan to limit government spending and give voters the final say on tax increases.

Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, on Monday filed his proposed constitutional amendment to strictly limit spending by Nevada governments, from the state down to the smallest municipal entities.

The proposed amendment would limit growth of government budgets to no more than population growth plus an inflation rate for western states.

Beers, who is also a Republican candidate for governor, said his proposed amendment is “more important than who is governor.”

“The next governor will only be able to hold the line on expenses for eight years,” he said. “This will permanently take the decision out of the hands of politicians and put it in the hands of taxpayers.”

He said supporters will begin collecting signatures to put the proposal on the ballot in January. They must collect 83,184 valid signatures by June 20 to qualify the measure. Voters must approve it in two consecutive elections to make the amendment part of Nevada’s Constitution.

If approved, it would take effect in January 2009.

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At the state level, Beers said any revenues received over and above the spending cap would first go to an emergency fund to handle major disasters, terror attacks and other events. That fund would be capped at 3 percent of the state budget.

Any extra money would be split. Half would go to the state’s Rainy Day Fund to cover budget shortfalls caused by economic downturns. That fund would be capped at 5 percent of the state budget.

The other half of any excess revenue, he said, would be rebated to Nevadans unless lawmakers or the governor asked voter permission to spend it for specific special projects. Rebates would be split as well. Half the money would be returned to Nevadans by the Department of Motor Vehicles much like the rebates mailed this fall. The other half would go to businesses as a rebate of their per-employee tax.

He said he believes businesses will pass some of those savings to workers in the form of raises.

The same type of limits would be imposed on every county and municipal government in the state. In their case, half of any surplus month would go to a reserve fund and the other half be rebated to residents in the form of property tax cuts.

The plan would require a vote of the people to create or increase any tax, fee or other governmental levy. Beers said that would apply even to raising a dog license or municipal swimming pool fee.

A vote would also be required to issue any bonds or enter into lease-purchase agreements.

The amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature or local governing board to put it on the ballot and mandate that the vote be held only on the regular general election Tuesday in November.

Beers said he believes the proposal, although complicated, can be explained to voters – and they will like it.

“Politicians don’t like this,” he said. “A fiscally prudent government will have no problem complying with this.”

Colorado has had a similar constitutional requirement for a decade but voters there suspended it earlier this year because some governmental services were on the verge of collapse. Beers said his plan avoids the pitfalls of Colorado’s spending limits.

“The problems that happened in Colorado are not likely to happen here,” he said.

Nevada’s tax structure is “exceptionally stable,” he said. Second, he said Colorado’s problems were compounded by voter approval of a measure mandating at least 1 percent annual increases in K-12 education budgets without providing a revenue source. In Nevada, ballot questions which mandate spending are required to provide a way to pay the tab.

The plan doesn’t specifically account for potential changes in federal mandates, such as Medicaid and Medicare and other entitlement programs.

“If they should stop the funding, the mandate would not continue,” he said. “We would then have to decide as a state whether or not we are willing to increase taxes to fund those programs.”

How it works

• Petitioners must gather 83,184 signatures to place an initiative on the ballot.

• Initiative must be passed by voters in two consecutive elections

• It would take effect January 2009.

What it means

• The proposed amendment would limit growth of government budgets to no more than population growth plus the general western states inflation rate.

• The plan would require a vote of the people to create or increase any tax, fee or other governmental levy. Applies even to raising a dog license or municipal swimming pool fee.

• A vote would also be required to issue any bonds or enter into lease-purchase agreements.

• The amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature or local governing board to put it on the ballot and mandate that the vote be held only on the regular general election Tuesday in November.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.