Guinn hosts review of Nevada's finances

LAS VEGAS - Gov. Kenny Guinn said Thursday that anyone who suggests he's hosting a forum on Nevada's finances simply to justify a tax hike is ''dead wrong,'' and he would consider one only if the state hits a fiscal crisis.

But after Guinn's keynote speech opening his statewide Forum on Fiscal Affairs, the governor said Nevada is ''teetering on the very edge'' of a financial downturn.

Lawmakers, state, city and county officials are attending the two-day review, which features presentations from economists, demographers, tax experts and budget analysts.

Guinn said other governors have asked him why he had to cut the state budget last year when Nevada has such a strong economy and is the fastest-growing state in the nation.

''If last year is going to be a pattern, and if we can't close the gap by simply streamlining government without jeopardizing the health, safety and the welfare of our people, then we may be facing problems never faced before,'' the first-term GOP governor said.

Guinn said critics might say he's just trying to justify a tax increase but added, ''They're dead wrong. We're here to ask your help in finding ways to avoid a tax hike. ... I will consider a tax increase only in the event of a financial crisis.''

Later, during a question-and-answer session, Guinn said Nevada has to do everything it can to make sure it never reaches that point.

''I don't think we're in a fiscal crisis, but we are teetering on the very edge,'' he said.

Keith Schwer, director of the economics department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Mark Nichols, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Nevada must diversify its economy because of increased competition from Indian gambling in California and the spread of gambling across the nation.

Schwer said Reno, Laughlin and downtown Las Vegas will suffer the most from the competition in the gambling industry.

Reno, the state's third largest city, will be forced to attract other industries for economic balance.

''We can't hide our heads in the sand,'' Nichols said. ''We have to face this competition.''

Guinn said the forum was intended to chart the course for the state's future. He's hoping the session will yield alternatives to raising taxes, especially two tax-increase initiatives proposed by state Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, and the Nevada State Education Association.

Neal's initiative would raise gambling taxes for the state's largest casinos from 6.25 percent to 11.25 percent of gross revenues, and dedicate most of the taxes to improving education, eliminating vehicle privilege taxes, and raising highway patrol salaries.

The teachers' union initiative proposes a 4 percent tax on net corporate profits above $50,000, which it expects would raise $250 million annually for education.


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