Billed as northern Nevada’s largest annual forum to address the state’s fiscal health and business climate — and sponsored by the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce — politicians, academics and leaders of the region’s top private industries spoke to attendees about how Nevada got where it is and where it will likely go from here.
Gov. Brian Sandoval gave the conference’s opening remarks, pounding on similar points he made in his State of the State address on Jan. 24, and promising to work with all cross sections of the Legislature to hammer out an agreeable budget.
Though Sandoval has pledged not to raise or implement taxes to cover budget deficits, many believe the Legislature is intent on doing it for him.
As it stands, Washoe County is set to see a tax cut when the 2009 increases expire at the end of June. Meanwhile, a state business license fee also is set for reduction.
At the federal stage, an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts approved in December means current rate levels will be retained.
Though much consideration was given to imposing a franchise or services tax in order to unleash new revenue streams in the state, some speakers suggested the modified business tax, or payroll tax, passed by the 2003 Legislature ought to be repealed.
Talk of restructuring the state’s tax base was widespread at the conference, picking up steam with Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Eadington reported that a permanent change had afflicted the state’s gaming industry and no recovery to 1990s levels would likely ever come.
Over-investment, diminishing tourism and growing competition from tribal communities and other states are largely responsible for gaming declines, Eadington said.
And gaming declines have translated to tax revenue declines, a particularly handsome toll given Nevada’s heavy reliance on casinos to shore up the state budget.
As elected officials look to diversify the state’s economy and move away from its dependence on gaming and tourism revenues, Ted McAleer told attendees to consider how neighboring Utah has managed to weather the economic recession with innovative business development strategies.
McAleer is the executive director of USTAR, the Utah Science and Technology Research outfit that promotes technology-based economic development.
McAleer said important similarities between Utah and Nevada mean the Silver State could benefit from a similar development program if it expanded and commercialized research in its university system, and increased competitiveness by opening up new access to capital.
U.S. Congressman Dean Heller, a Republican representing northern Nevada, said that budget and economic development efforts in Washington this year would hinge on “three bites of the apple.”
Republicans in the House of Representatives, Heller said, could show they are serious about changing the size of government when debating the debt ceiling, the budget and a continuing resolution to fund government for the rest of the year comes to the floor of Congress.
“These are the kind of things that have to change here in this country if we want to move this economy forward,” Heller said.