(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – As lawmakers prepare to study the state’s revenue structure and develop a long-term vision for Nevada’s future, several members of a citizens panel appointed to assist in the process agree on two points: Give us a chance before you pass judgment on our effort, and don’t put our work on a shelf.
“It’s tough to criticize something that hasn’t happened yet,” said Boyd Martin of Boyd Martin Construction, who is representing the Las Vegas Chapter of the Associated General Contractors on the 19-member panel. “I hope the panel will be effective; that the time will be well spent. I want our results to have some meaning.”
Marsha Irvin, chancellor of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, said the task of identifying what the state’s quality of life should look like in the next 5 to 20 years is of monumental importance.
An educator for 32 years, Irvin said: “I’m going into the process with the perspective of being very open minded.”
It is premature to suggest what, if any, recommendations regarding a tax increase will come from the group, she said. The first task is to examine where Nevada is now, where it should be and then set out to bring that vision to reality, Irvin said.
The panel will work closely with Moody’s Analytics, a contractor hired by the Legislature to perform the study of the state’s revenue structure at a cost of $253,000. The contractor has until July 1 to complete its review.
The Nevada News Bureau interviewed a half dozen members of the “Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group” to get their views on the challenging job ahead. The members were appointed last month by the Legislature. The panel will meet for the first time on January 8, 2010.
While the panel has yet to meet, its makeup has been criticized by some Republican lawmakers for having too many representatives of interests that consume tax revenue as opposed to those that produce tax revenue. There is also a belief by some critics, including Gov. Jim Gibbons, that a recommendation for a tax increase from the panel is a forgone conclusion.
Panel member Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for the state’s largest private employer, MGM Mirage, said criticism of the panel’s work is welcome as long as it comes from those willing to participate in finding solutions to the state’s challenges.
“Nothing is going to easy about this,” he said. “I’m not approaching it from a certain political point of view.”
But don’t play Monday morning quarterback, Feldman said.
“As a representative of the largest employer in the state, as a parent, as a member of this commission, we cannot under any circumstances let our educational system continue on the way it is,” he said.
Which is not to say there aren’t efficiencies that can be implemented, Feldman said.
Donald Snyder, who serves as the volunteer chairman of the board of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas and who is a former president of the Boyd Gaming Corp., said he is optimistic the panel can produce a report of value for use by lawmakers and the governor.
“I think this type of process is difficult even under the best of circumstances,” he said. “But if ever there was a time we need to take a long-term look, now is the time to do it.”
Snyder said the charge to the panel can only be accomplished with the public and private sectors working together to put their best thoughts forward for consideration by the group.
“If it is just another exercise in a study that will go nowhere, I will be really disappointed,” he said.
Rene Cantú Jr., vice president of multicultural affairs for Nevada State College and representing the Latin Chamber of Commerce on the panel, said Nevada needs to get away from its boom and bust cycles. Expanding the diversity of the state’s employment base would help to accomplish that goal.
“There needs to be some sort of method of stabilizing our funding for schools and roads,” he said. “I don’t believe throwing money at public education will improve our schools. We must spend smartly. But we have to spend if we want a good quality of life.”
Denise Tanata Ashby, executive director of the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy at UNLV, said as a panel member she will reach out to as many people and points of view as possible.
Previous studies of Nevada’s tax structure have not been very successful, but Tanata Ashby believes this time might be different.
“We’re looking at a different climate right now,’ she said. “I hope there we can put some solid recommendations together that are going to improve Nevada.”
Tanata Ashby said it is time to gain some ground in Nevada’s poor rankings on issues affecting children. This doesn’t necessarily mean a tax increase, but possibly a realignment of where tax dollars are being spent, she said.
While Nevada cannot expect to move into first place in quality of life rankings overnight, progress needs to be made, Ashby said.
“We are all taxpayers ourselves,” she said. “But at some point, everybody has to contribute if we want that vision of Nevada that we have.”
State Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, has said he believes the panel is well represented by business and other varied interests throughout the state.
But state Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, in comments made after the panel was named last month, said he believes the outcome of the review will be a call for higher taxes since only six of the 19 are in the “taxpayer” category.
A review of the voter registration of the members of the panel shows that 12 are Democrats, five are Republicans and two are nonpartisan.
To critics of the panel’s composition, it is a further sign that the end result of the review will be a preordained call for higher taxes.
Townsend said the next Legislature already faces the challenge of how to fill a multi-billion dollar gap in the budget before considering additional spending on public education or other quality of life issues.
“Not to criticize the contractor, but the problem is no one will admit that the society we want, we can’t afford,” he said. “We want everyone to have health care, jobs and educational opportunities. That’s great. But who is going to pay for that?”