Locals back restricting state ability to take their money

Local officials and their representatives Thursday spoke in favor of Sen. John Lee's proposed amendment to make it harder for the state to take local revenues or dump costly mandates on them.

Both taking local revenues and transferring responsibility for more governmental programs to Nevada counties and cities are key features of Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed budget.

Jeff Fontaine of the Nevada Association of Counties told the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee since 2008, budget shifts by the state have cost counties $250 million. He said the recommended budget now before the 2011 session would take another $335 million. He said the counties already have significant revenue shortfalls and that the proposed budget "would only exacerbate the situation."

Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said SJR9 proposes to amend Nevada's constitution to require a two-thirds vote of each legislative house before the state could cost local governments more money.

He said the proposed budget is especially hard on local governments in a legislative year because they must file their budgets with the Nevada Department of Taxation by April 15 - more than a month before lawmakers and the governor finalize the state budget for the coming two years.

"It's hard to budget when the state is holding a large hammer over each local government's piggy bank," Lee told the committee.

They were joined by David Frazier of the Nevada League of Cities who pointed out there have been two advisory votes by the people of Nevada supporting the protection of local government revenues. The first opposed unfunded mandates by the state. The second, just last year, agreed the state should get the consent of local government before taking money from them.

All pointed out that the plan would block the legislature from dipping into local government revenues, just make it more difficult by requiring a two-thirds vote.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, questioned whether local officials had also impacted the state by granting tax abatements that reduced revenues.

The state, however, only participates at a minimum level in the property tax and it's 2 percent share of the sales tax can't be abated by local governments.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and Washoe County Manager Katie Simon along with other local officials said the proposed amendment would be a positive step, requiring a super majority to take from their budgets. But they all said their primary interest is, as Frazier put it, "having a seat at the table." He said state and local officials should get together and work out what services should be provided at what level of government and how best to fund them rather than having the state simply dump responsibilities on local government.

Goodman said that's no different than the federal government dumping unfunded mandates on the state and local governments.

"We want to take a seat at the table," he said.

Horsford agreed saying it's all public money to serve Nevada residents and that all levels of government should work together on how best to do that.

The committee took no action on the proposed amendment, which would have to be approved by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and then by the voters to take effect. That process takes a minimum of five years.


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