CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada’s Senate voted unanimously Thursday to authorize Clark County to raise sales taxes — a move that would bring in $39 million annually and fund the hiring of more than 300 new police officers.
The unanimous vote came in the third day of a special session and after the Assembly also approved the measure. The bill heads to the governor, and Assembly members are now focused on a measure that would increase the hotel tax in southern Nevada to fund a convention center expansion and a Las Vegas NFL stadium.
Sheriff Joe Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said the unanimous vote from the Senate was a “big lift” that showed “they understand the need.”
“It’s no secret that we’re at the tip of the tongue of anybody who wants to commit terrorism, so it’s important that we have the resources,” he said.
If the Clark County Commission votes to approve the sales tax hike, the revenue will flow to southern Nevada police departments based on their populations. Officers will also be allocated to the Las Vegas Strip tourist corridor based on calculations of how many visitors are coming and how long they’re staying.
Police say they are falling short of the staffing ratios they feel they need to protect the public because of population growth and the economic downturn.
Opponents who spoke out in the Assembly said the measure did not merit urgent consideration in the special legislative session and could have waited until the regular legislative session next spring. They also called the potential sales tax increase onerous and regressive because it would hit people of all income levels.
“I understand and I really believe we need a greater police presence on the Las Vegas Strip,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, who opposed the measure along with three other Democrats and three other Republicans. “However, the rest of my district has a lot of low-income folks. This is a big burden for them.”
The Nevada Assembly spent Thursday afternoon learning and asking questions about a bill that’s considered a tougher sell. The measure would raise the hotel room tax by up to 1.4 percentage points in the Las Vegas area, bringing in $750 million for a stadium and $420 million for a convention center expansion and renovation.
The Nevada Senate passed the measure on Tuesday in a 16-5 vote, but two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Assembly needs to support it for final approval. That’s a tough hurdle with opposition on both ends of the political spectrum.
“A bunch of them are what I call ‘spongy,'” Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen said about his legislative colleagues, who are facing heavy pressure to vote for the deal. “You see every lobbyist in the state, and very, very good ones I might add, and there’s not a single one out here who’s lobbying for the best interest of the taxpayer.”
Opponents have called the deal a handout to billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has committed $650 million to the stadium. Supporters in the Senate say they were convinced by the 25,000 construction jobs the two projects are expected to create, but prospects looked dimmer in the Assembly, even among Democrats.
“I don’t know why so many Democrats wouldn’t want to put people back to work,” said Tommy White of the Laborers Union, which is anxious for the project. “This is like actually being in a football game. We’re on the 2-yard line, you don’t know who’s going to get the ball next. It will be very sad if they don’t pass this.”
Even if the stadium deal passes, three-fourths of NFL owners must approve any plan to move the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas. The City of Oakland says it is still working on its own stadium plan in hopes of convincing the team stay in the Bay Area.
It is not clear when Nevada lawmakers will finish their work. The special sessions usually last several days.