Sales tax revenues in Nevada are up, partly thanks to recreational pot. We sat down with Bill Anderson, executive director of the Nevada Department of Taxation, to break it all down.
So, the latest revenue numbers are in, and December marked the 90th straight month the state has seen growth in sales tax revenues. What does that mean, both for the state and for its general fund?
Well, it's certainly good news. In fact, we can go back about a quarter of a century and we have yet to find a similar period where we've seen non-stop growth over such a lengthy period.
You know, it tells us a number of things. Certainly, that the holiday shopping season at the end of 2017 was fairly encouraging. It's telling us that our growth is broad-based, and you can look at that on a number of different fronts. Across counties, about 13 of 17 counties are showing growth, and across different sales categories, eight of our 10 largest sales categories are showing growth.
Let's dig down into that. What sectors specifically are seeing the most growth?
Well, when we look at the fastest growing sector in terms of sales, we can look at the professional, scientific and technical-type sales. We're talking high-tech type stuff, you know, any equipment, gauges, things of that nature. I think that's reflective of an improvement in the state's construction industry, as well as the growth in various engineering and other high tech type industries.
So, think like Switch and Tesla, that kind of thing?
You mention county-by-county growth. On that county level, where are we seeing the most changes, both positive and negative?
Well, somewhat surprisingly, though after you think about it, it's not all that surprising, we're seeing our strongest growth in a couple of rural counties, that being Churchill County and Storey County.
On the surface, that sounds surprising, but when you take a step back and think about it, because of all the development and all the activity, it makes sense. If you go down to the opposite end of the spectrum, we always see a lot of volatility in the numbers for our smaller, rural counties.
So where does recreational marijuana fit into all this? Is it boosting the numbers, and if so, how much?
Well, although it doesn't show up directly in our sales tax numbers, we can do a little bit of math and back that number out. Through the first half of the year, marijuana, adult use marijuana sales totaled about $200 million. There is a wholesale tax, a retail tax, and also a normal sales tax, so there's a lot that goes in there. But in terms of sales volume, about $200 million over the first half of the fiscal year.
That represents about 15 percent of total growth in sales.
You're an economist by trade. You've been the governor's go-to guy for economic development for years. What do these numbers tell us about the state's economy overall?
Well, I think if you take a step back, look at the big picture, you look at things like employment growth and the decline in unemployment, this is just another piece of the picture that says that our economy is rebounded, that we've been on the mend pretty much since 2010, improving at a relatively rapid pace.
Jacob Solis is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism.