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Nevada Economic Forum told state’s recovery depends on COVID vaccine, another stimulus round

Geoff Dornan

Nevada Appeal

CARSON CITY, Nev. — The state of Nevada’s Economic Forum was informed by experts Tuesday that General Fund revenues for the coming biennium depend completely on whether Congress approves another stimulus package — and how soon a coronavirus vaccine is available.

Russell Guindon, Principal Deputy Fiscal Analyst of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said he and other economists expect a vaccine to be available in the first or early second quarter of 2021. He said they expect an additional stimulus early next year as well.

All the analysts who presented their projections Tuesday say both the vaccine and stimulus package are vital to Nevada’s continued recovery.

The five-member forum heard presentations on each of the seven major revenue streams from LCB Fiscal, the Governors Finance Office, Taxation, Gaming Control and the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, as well as Moody’s Analytics and a number of organizations including the Nevada Resort Association, Nevada Retail Association and Nevada Realtors Association.

The panel made no formal projections at this meeting; it will make projections on Dec. 3. Their projections must be used by the executive branch to develop the governor’s proposed General Fund budget for the coming biennium.

Dan White of Moody’s said a COVID-19 vaccine is critical to restoring visitors who come to the state by air.

“Air visitors spend a lot more money than those who drive in, especially the international visitors,” he said.

He and Virginia Valentine, head of the Nevada Resort Association, said air travel is also key to bringing back mid-week visitation that depends on conventions, entertainment events and trade shows.

Valentine said without those visitors, some hotels in the south are only open on weekends because of the lack of business. She added there is demand for those things, but travel restrictions are not in Nevada’s control.

“Obviously a vaccine is a game-changer,” she said. “Large events, that is the key for bringing people back.”

“A lot of core industries in Nevada are designed around bringing large groups of people together,” White added.

Forum Chairman Craig Billings agreed. He pointed to the fact that gaming that relies on drive-in customers from around the west has rebounded very well since casinos reopened.

Mike Lawton of the Gaming Control Board amplified his comments, saying that segment of the gaming market — aided by stimulus money pumped into the economy and customers driving to the state — has several markets, including Washoe County, South Lake Tahoe and Carson City, actually ahead of where they were before the pandemic in September.

Guindon, Valentine and Lawton all said one major revenue source, the Live Entertainment Tax, has been all but wiped out because major shows and other events have been prohibited since the pandemic forced a shutdown.

Brian Wachter, representing the retail association, said the 8,600 businesses that qualify as retail badly need to be able to open up more, so a vaccine and stimulus money would help them get back on their feet.

Hayley Owens of the Taxation Department, Suzanna Powers of the budget office, Guindon and others all said they expect revenues to begin recovering in fiscal 2022 and increase significantly in 2023.