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  • From the blog

    Statewide revenue growth outpaces Commerce Tax receipts

    By Daniel Honchariw

    Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recent demand that, “Anyone supporting a repeal of the Commerce Tax must explain to Nevada’s children, families and businesses which education initiatives will be cut if it is eliminated“ is disingenuous, at best.

    Sandoval is clearly implying that revenues from the Commerce Tax are specifically earmarked for education spending, and that without them education is poised to see a substantial loss of revenue.

    Neither implied claim is true, as the state’s own financial report shows:

    Because Commerce Tax revenues feed into the State General Fund, they can be used for a myriad of state priorities, not just education. So while it is true that increases in the general fund are likely to also increase education spending, it is misleading to suggest that all Commerce Tax funds go directly toward education.

    Moreover, general fund revenues are still forecasted to increase — even without the Commerce Tax. A repeal would merely decrease the rate at which spending is expected to increase.

    Of course, referring to a decrease in the rate of an expected spending increase as a “cut” is a common tactic used by big-government advocates to mislead voters. Nonetheless, it remains indisputable that general fund revenues — and thus the ability to spend more on education — are forecasted to rise considerably with or without the Commerce Tax.

    As the below chart illustrates, even if Commerce Tax revenues are excluded from fiscal year 2016 — the first year in which the tax was levied — statewide revenues still increased by $438 million year-over-year, or 8 percent.

    The same trend likely holds for fiscal year 2017, although official numbers from the Tax Department aren’t available until January 2018.

    Even more, the Commerce Tax provides businesses with a 50 percent credit against their modified-business tax liability — meaning that, in the event the Commerce Tax is repealed, the actual net-revenue “loss” to the state could be as little as half of its annual revenues. In fiscal year 2016, this would’ve amounted to about $70 million, or only 1.1 percent of the state’s total tax revenues of $5.94 billion.

    So, don’t get lost in the spin! Nevada is going to spend record-high amounts on education in the years ahead, regardless of what happens with the destructive and distortive Commerce Tax.

    Daniel Honchariw is a labor and fiscal policy analyst with NPRI.

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    Billion dollar increase in Nevada's pension debt will reduce teacher pay, public services

    Pension debt is going to take an even bigger chunk out of Nevada’s government budgets in the coming years, forcing cuts in spending that would otherwise go to schools, parks, road repair and public safety.

    In 2015, the nearly $1.5 billion that taxpayers sent to PERS consumed more than 10 percent of state and local governments’ combined own-source revenue, which was the second-highest rate nationwide.

    But that number is set to increase dramatically beginning in 2019, as a result of today’s decision by the PERS board to slightly pull back the veil that shrouds the true size of the System’s debt.

    “While today’s decision by the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada (PERS) is a small step in the right direction, it ultimately highlights a fundamentally broken governance structure that encourages costs to be pushed onto future generations,” said Robert Fellner, transparency research director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

    “Years of relying on flawed accounting metrics designed to understate the System’s true cost have left today’s public workers and taxpayers holding the bag. This isn’t just unfair, it’s also an incredibly inefficient way to attract and retain talent — particularly teachers,” he added.

    Moving closer to acknowledging the true size of PERS debt, said Fellner, means that current public employees and taxpayers will have to pay more in the coming years — while receiving no added benefit of any kind — to bail out the System’s past funding failures.

    Future hires will fare the worst, he said.

    A 2015 Legislative change designed to stem the state’s exploding retirement costs reduced the PERS benefits that will be offered to most public employees, but only those hired after July 1, 2015.

    This means new Nevada teachers will have to pay some of the highest rates in the country to PERS, in order to help fund the much-richer benefits their veteran counterparts are, or will be, receiving.

    Unfortunately it’s quite simple, said Fellner: “New hires will have to pay more, while getting less.”

    Scholars at the Bureau of Labor Statistics have noted that such a counterproductive compensation structure is almost certain to negatively affect the quality and retention of current teachers.

    “To be clear,” Fellner added, “the problem isn’t today’s decision to slightly reduce the degree by which the System’s costs are obscured. The problem is a governance and accounting structure that encourages defraying costs as long as possible, and then dumping those costs onto a generation of taxpayers and public workers who received none of the services.”

    Absent fundamental pension reform, he said, today’s scenario is destined to repeat itself in coming years, but with more devastating effects — particularly in the case of a market downturn.

    “Left unchecked, Nevada’s pension albatross will continue devouring tax dollars at the expense of other public services like education, public safety and road repair.

    “Nevertheless, successful past reforms exist that Nevada lawmakers can learn from,” he said, citing reforms enacted by the federal government as well as more recent examples in Arizona and Utah.


    Robert Fellner

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      Sierra Java in Elko, NV
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      Carson City, Nevada by Patrick Nouhailler is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

      Monday, November 20, 2017 at 06:00 PM
      La Posada Real in Carson City, NV
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