Most Nevadans will get back everything they paid for vehicle registration fees in 2004 under a plan announced Thursday by Gov. Kenny Guinn.
Guinn said the state has about $300 million more in the general fund than needed to balance the state budget. He credited Nevada's booming economy which resulted in double-digit increases in sales and gaming tax revenues.
There have been suggestions by members of the Legislature and others that the state should return some of that excess to residents - especially in view of the significant tax increases imposed on Nevadans by Guinn and the 2003 Legislature.
"I balanced a budget and the state of Nevada has, after we've gone through this process, about $300 million in surplus," he told a press conference in Las Vegas. "I believe this money can now be set aside to give back to the taxpayers of this state."
He admitted the program won't pay Nevadans who don't own a vehicle. But he said after looking at every possible method of getting the money back to the taxpayers, he believes the DMV rebate is the fairest and reaches the most people.
Guinn said 80 percent of vehicle owners in Nevada will get back everything they paid in registration fees during 2004 - including the base $33 that historically goes to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The rest - those with the most expensive and valuable vehicles - will be capped at $300 per vehicle.
A family with three new or late-model vehicles could get three checks totaling $900.
Everything above that $33 base goes to school districts, city and county governments but Guinn assured them the rebate will come out of the state's pocket, not theirs.
"After working with my administration and cabinet members for the past six months, I have decided that the fairest way to rebate this money is based on a vehicle registration fee that our citizens pay," he said.
The money will go to Nevadans who registered cars, trucks, motorcycles, trailers and recreational vehicles through DMV in 2004.
Chief of Staff Mike Hillerby said the rebate applies to all commercial vehicles registered by Nevada businesses as well.
Guinn said his six years as governor so far have been highlighted by tough economic times that forced him to announce repeated reductions and reorganizations of state government. He said the surplus this year is a strong indication that the tax changes and increases approved in 2003 have helped to stabilize and broaden Nevada's tax base.
"Our economy is roaring," he said. "I do believe our economy and the way it is structured now, we have a reasonable opportunity to expect that to continue."
He said the DMV rebate is a one-time action but he said he was open to considering extending it if the economy continues to "roar."
Guinn said he will lay out other priorities in his 2006-2007 budget at the State of the State address Jan. 24 - including initiatives designed to improve Nevada's public schools and to restore the Rainy Day Fund he described as a "savings account" for Nevadans.
Guinn and lawmakers used $135 million from the Rainy Day Fund to cover shortfalls caused by the troubled economy and the fallout after Sept. 11, 2001, at the start of the 2003 Legislature. A number of lawmakers have since joined Guinn in urging that fund be replenished.
Existing state law will put about $120 million back into that fund by January. Guinn said he would like to get that to $150 million or above.
He has also made several statements indicating he intends to present some initiative to pump money into public schools - particularly kindergarten through sixth grade.
And he says he wants to find a way to provide state workers with a pay raise this session.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.
About the rebate
What: Up to $300 rebate on each vehicle registered
When: This summer, if approved by Legislature
How: Checks mailed by DMV