Protestors rallying against budget cuts during the Nevada Legislature’s special session in Carson City in July. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent/pool photo)
Dozens of Nevada organizations are calling on Gov. Steve Sisolak to diversify and increase revenue streams.
Their joint letter can be seen as a preamble to the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 1. Lawmakers will undoubtedly be presented with multiple proposals for raising revenue to offset the economic blows dealt by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Increasing revenue rather than cutting programs and services will not only help Nevadans today; it will also help ensure our economy recovers as soon as possible and will set a stronger foundation to help guard us against future economic downturns,” reads the letter, which was signed by 60 organizations from across the state and delivered to the governor Wednesday.
The Economic Forum, an appointed board of five private-sector economists and tax experts, meets Thursday and is expected to approve the budget forecast to be used by the governor and Legislature for the 2021-2023 budget. Projections presented to the forum during previous meetings have suggested Nevada’s economic recovery will be sluggish.
The governor’s office has already asked all state agencies to prepare “budget reserves” of 12 percent for each year of the 2021-2023 budget.
“Like Nevada families, the State must budget with what we have in front of us in our current situation as we continue to monitor projections and updates,” said Sisolak in an early November statement announcing his reduction requests.
Sisolak’s statement emphasized the need for Congress to act on additional emergency relief to support local and state governments.
It did not hint at the possibility of raising revenue.
Sisolak, who was elected governor in 2018, began his tenure by recommending a state budget that included no new taxes — a stance that especially frustrated progressive groups who’d hoped to make bigger gains in education and health care funding.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Sisolak said of taxes at the time.
Now, amid unprecedented economic conditions, some advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations are hoping that tune has changed.
“We recognize the significant political capital and support needed to raise revenue, especially during an economic downturn,” reads the letter to Sisolak.
Signed onto the letter are many organizations who have previously lobbied for new revenue, including Battle Born Progress, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Nevada State Education Association. Those groups were among the most vocal during the dual special legislative sessions held over the summer to address the budget shortfall created by the shuttering of casinos and businesses beginning in March. Those sessions failed to raise new revenue but did result in three proposals for raising mining taxes.
The politically powerful Culinary Union Local 226 also signed the letter.
Several apolitical service providers, including Crisis Support Services of Nevada, Food Bank of Northern Nevada and Family Counseling Service of Northern Nevada, have signed on. Food banks in particular have felt the increased strain of the pandemic as historic high rates of unemployment have pushed more people and families into financial (and food) instability.
Several organizations from the healthcare field are also represented, including SEIU Nevada Local 1107, the Nevada Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Immunize Nevada, Rural Nevada Health Network, and UNLV School of Medicine.
“We’re not trying to make revenue partisan,” says Jared Busker, whose eponymous consulting firm helped coordinate the letter. “We want to support the governor and every legislator as they make that really tough decision.”
According to Busker, a loosely organized coalition is forming to ramp up the calls for new revenue as the legislative session nears and begins. Called the Nevada Revenue Coalition, that group does not include all 60 organizations who signed Wednesday’s letter, but approximately 30 have already joined.
Busker said the coalition as a whole will not push for any one specific new or increased revenue source — that will be left to individual groups to decide. Instead, they hope to send a message that there is broad-based support for raising revenue instead of forcing budget cuts.
That said, the letter sent to the governor does identify sales tax as a revenue source to avoid raising, due to its regressive nature.
Wednesday’s letter reads: “Going forward, we urge the state to work towards creating tax policies and aligning budgets to reflect a more equitable and inclusive approach for all communities and an economic recovery that extends to all people regardless of race, gender, or immigration status.”
A proposal to increase Nevada’s sales tax is likely headed to the 2021 Legislature for consideration, thanks to a signature-driven petition spearheaded by Clark County Education Association and submitted to the Secretary of State for verification. CCEA has also submitted signatures for a proposal to the state’s gaming tax.
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