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Reno-Sparks chamber: State must focus on spending, not taxes

John Seelmeyer

With Nevada’s state government facing a budget shortfall that could total as much as $3 billion, the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce believes the effort to close the gap should focus on spending rather than taxes.

“If we don’t change how we spend money in this state, we will be right back here in two years, four years, six years,” says Tray Abney, the chamber’s director of government relations.

A key element of that, the chamber believes, is creation of a Sunset Committee that would periodically review state agencies there are some 200 commissions in state government and make sure they still are needed, Abney says.

Another budget-related issue that needs close attention, the chamber believes, is pensions for public employees.

With as much as $10 billion in unfunded liabilities in the state personnel retirement system, the chamber backs steps that include increasing the retirement age and bringing health-care subsidies into line with those in the private sector.

Without lawmakers’ commitment to long-term spending reforms such as a spending cap, Abney says the chamber won’t support any increase in taxes.

And if new taxes are needed to close the budget gap, the chamber believes they need to be predictable so that business owners and managers can plan their futures.

“They just want stability,” Abney says, noting that new and expanding companies in Nevada often base their plans on their expectations

for the next five years. A stable regulatory environment, the chamber says, is just as important as a predictable tax climate.

The chamber supports, for instance, changes in state overtime polices that would create a weekly standard, rather than a 24-hour standard, that determines when overtime kicks in.

It also opposes any change in workers compensation that would make Nevada businesses less competitive.

When the Legislature convenes in February, the chamber also will encourage more local flexibility and fewer state mandates for K-12 school districts as well as the state’s college and university system.

And Abney says the chamber is gearing up to oppose any move to provide collective-bargaining rights to state employees even if negotiations are limited to non-economic issues.

“It’s just a foot in the door,” says Abney.

On another issue Nevada’s weakness in attracting federal dollars the chamber believes that investment in a new coordinator of grants management would pay benefits.

The U.S. Census reports that Nevada gets 75 cents from Washington for each $1 its residents and businesses pay to the federal government, compared with an average of 95 cents in other Western states.

“We’re leaving a lot of money on the table,” Abney says. The Spending and Government Efficiency Commission created by Gov. Jim Gibbons this year estimates that a grants management office would bring $310 million to the state over five years.

On other issues:

* The chamber supports an evaluation of the goods and services that are purchased from out-of-state by Nevada companies, followed by steps to attract those suppliers to Nevada.

* The chamber supports a budget system that establishes clear priorities and ensures those priorities are funded first. “The budget establishes priorities,” Abney says, “but we’ve made everything a priority.”

* The chamber supports proposals to add seats to the Legislature to ensure a voice for northern Nevada. The Legislature currently includes 63 members 42 in the Assembly, 21 in the Senate and the State Constitution allows as many as 75 members.