By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
The lawsuit brought by State Senate Republicans after Democrats passed two revenue bills in the 2019 Legislature without the constitutionally-mandated two-thirds majority, is now under consideration by the Nevada Supreme Court, Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said on Nevada Newsmakers.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the district court that upheld the necessity of the two-thirds majority, the taxes will be blocked and the state would have to return more than $100 million to the taxpayers, Settelmeyer told host Sam Shad.
Yet it would not hurt the state’s education system as Democrats fear because of the lofty projections for tax revenue in the near future, Settelmeyer said.
“It doesn’t really create a hole,” Settelmeyer said. “It just shows that they stole money from people when they didn’t have the authority to do so.”
Nevada’s Economic Forum — a group of economic experts — recently predicted a robust recovery for Nevada tourism, especially on the Las Vegas Strip, the state’s major economic engine.
The forum predicted that Nevada would have the tax revenues to balance a $9.1 billion budget for the next two years. And those figures don’t include another $2.9 billion that Nevada will receive from the federal American Rescue Plan relief package.
“If you look at it just recently, $910 million more in funds were found by the Economic Forum, across the years,” Settelmeyer said. “So the 2021 biennium as of now, plus the ’22 and’ 23 (financial years) that are coming, they (Forum members) found almost $300 million a year of increases in revenue.”
Settelmeyer estimates the state would have to return $107 million in tax money if the Supreme Court agrees with the district-court ruling.
“It would be about $107 million that they are trying to utilize going forward and probably about $107 million going backwards, that they would have to refund or find, in some way, to get back to those individuals who paid the money who didn’t have to.”
Settelmeyer felt good about arguments his side presented to the Supreme Court.
“We feel very positive about the hearing,” Settelmeyer said. “We think it went really well. Of course, you can never be 100 percent sure when it’s the Supreme Court. They’re final because they are final. So that’s what we’ll have to wait for, their ruling.”
He could not say if the ruling would come before the Legislature’s scheduled end in a few weeks.
“Some people think they will get it out pretty quickly,” he said. “However, the last time we had oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court, they said they’d rule expeditiously and that was five months later.”
Settelmeyer also predicted the state will probably reap major increases in gaming-tax revenues because of federal stimulus money people have spent in Nevada’s casinos.
“If you look at the resources that were distributed by the federal government, a lot of them, unfortunately, were used in casinos,” he said. “People didn’t necessarily pay off their debts. So therefore we’ve had a large increase in the gaming revenue down in Clark County, which of course, makes up a very large portion of the state’s budget, including the LET (live entertainment tax).”
Nevada’s gaming win topped $1 billion in March, the highest total in state revenues in eight months, according to the Gaming Control Board. Slot machine revenue hit $772 million, the second-highest total in state history.
With the covid pandemic subsiding, people seemed to crave live entertainment, Settelmeyer said.
“So it was interesting to see the live entertainment tax bounce back when we didn’t necessarily have a lot of shows going on,” he said.
Gaming is not the only business in Nevada that is warming up as the state eases out of pandemic restrictions, Settelmeyer said.
“The problem that I run across in businesses that I deal with is, they can’t find employees,” he said. “They’d love to open up their restaurants back to 100 percent capacity and they’ve even taken off the blue tape or the red tape on every other table and things of that nature but they can’t find the people to actually help them staff those extra tables.”
President Biden, however, said on Monday that generous unemployment benefits are not incentivizing people to remain out-of-work, arguing that Americans would return to the workforce for a “decent wage.” Yet Biden also said his administration would push would-be workers to accept job offers instead of staying home.
Settelmeyer countered: “We should think about incentivizing the use of those resources from the federal level. Maybe we should incentivize people to go back to work.”
When asked how that would work, Settelmeyer said:
“Well, instead of doing $300 a month to stay home, how about giving you $300 a month to be at work, especially for jobs that are vacant at this point of time? Again, every place I go, and especially in Northern Nevada, it seems that every other radio ad is for box store that is paying from $15-to-$18 dollars an hour for anyone who will show up and help them with their problem (of lack of employees).”