Tax control amendment filed a third time to correct problems

The state Senator trying to impose a Colorado-style tax and spending limit on Nevada governments was forced to refile the proposed ballot question Thursday for the third time.

And a review of that new version shows a fourth may be necessary.

Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, and his supporters filed the Tax And Spending Control initiative with the Secretary of State's Office on Dec. 12. At the time, he said any and all tax, license or fee increases would have to be voted on by the people they would affect.

That drew an immediate reaction from local government officials who said that means a full election every time they need to raise a dog-license or swimming-pool fee to cover rising costs.

Beers corrected that the next day saying he misspoke and it wasn't the intent of the proposal to require a vote on every small fee and license increase. He said, at that point, fee and license increases would be limited to growth plus inflation.

But when he and supporters filed a corrected version of the initiative on Tuesday, he said that too was incorrect, that governments could increase fees, licenses and other such charges by more than inflation plus growth without going to a public vote. He said it is total spending which would be capped to control governmental growth.

The next day, however, Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association reported to her members that's not what the language in the amended petition actually said. She said it would require a vote of the people to raise any such license or fee by more than the overall state inflation rate.

Beers confirmed that analysis Wednesday, saying it was "a clerical error."

"There were multiple versions around and the wrong one got grabbed and filed," he said, adding that the correct version of the initiative would be filed Thursday.

Told that observers were saying his petition drive doesn't look very well organized, Beers said, "No it doesn't."

"Hopefully we will have some paid executive director soon," he said.

However, when the correct version of the petition was filed with the secretary of state Thursday, it appeared to still leave the issue unclear. The proposed amendment would require state and local governments to get voter approval for "any new tax or rate increase above that of the prior year...."

The flawed second version of the petition exempted "any fee or license rate increase above the rate of inflation" from that requirement. The new, third version simply removed that exemption.

So whether fees could be increased to cover unanticipated cost increases - such as a jump in the cost of insurance for a municipal swimming pool - would depend on how "any new tax or rate increase" was defined. Fees and licenses have often been described as "rates."

If so, voters would have to approve every increase including for a dog license or recreation fee as well as major increases such as sales and property taxes.

The proposed law would be a Nevada version of Colorado's trouble-plagued Taxpayer Bill of Rights enacted a decade ago which strictly caps government spending at population growth plus inflation and requires any excess revenues be rebated to residents. After the combination of tax limits and a conflicting voter mandate to increase funding for public schools drove that state's governmental services to the brink of collapse, Colorado voters this year suspended the tax limits.

Beers says that wouldn't happen in Nevada, which is a rapidly growing state that he said will get more revenue from growth every year.

But local government officials disagree, saying inflation plus growth doesn't cover costs for such things as employee health benefits and insurance, which are rising at much faster rates.

Beers plans to begin collecting signatures for the petition after the first of the year. It will take 83,184 valid signers to put the question on the 2006 ballot.

-- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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