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As Businesses Continue To Struggle In Pandemic, Chamber Asks For Restraint From Nevada Lawmakers

A generic image for KUNR's coverage of Nevada's 81st Legislative Session. The image features a sillohuette of the state Capitol's dome. Pink and orange mountains are in the background.

Tax revenues in Nevada have declined during the pandemic, which may soon force lawmakers to make some tough decisions in the months ahead, such as possibly making cuts to state services or even raising taxes. To get a sense of how this legislative session may impact the state’s business community, KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Ann Silver, who runs the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce.

Paul Boger: Leaders in other counties, in the more rural counties, have voiced concerns over the governor's or the state's response, namely that it's overburdensome to businesses. You are a business leader. In your opinion, are the state's current requirements overburdensome? Are there things that need to be addressed or looked at?

Ann Silver: I'd like to see that we don't over-regulate businesses. I'm a firm believer in free enterprise, but I'm also a scared citizen of COVID. So if I balance what is required to maintain our economy, and certainly over the last 10 months, we've needed to follow mandates. And many of the businesses that are chamber members that followed those mandates have done exceedingly well. Because their consumers, their clients, their patrons want to know that they've done what's required to maintain a safe working environment, not only for their employees but for their consumers.

So, do I want continued mandates? And mandates is a very strong word. Do we have people who don't like them? Yeah, but that's the only way our economy stayed in play. I think we've all come around to understanding that we either know someone or lost someone who got COVID, and we don't want to die. We don't want to be extraordinarily ill, we don't want to be in a hospital, and we don't want a ventilator down our throat. So we've masked up, and if that's an extraordinary mandate, that's too bad.

Boger: I'm curious. What would you like to see come out of this legislative session?

Silver: Well, I'm certainly aware there are a lot of bill draft requests and bills relative to employees, and probably more mandates, not necessarily related to COVID, regarding businesses. I don't believe in over-regulating businesses. I don't believe in taxing specific industries. We are opposed to that here at the chamber. We can't emphasize enough that business is the lifeblood of this community, particularly small businesses that we all rely on for our goods and services.

I would hope that people don't go into an extreme mode during the legislative session and say, “let's get to every rule we possibly can about employees and businesses,” because it dampens the enthusiasm for starting a business or continuing a business, or even exploring new ideas for businesses. I hope that there is some restraint on legislators, who always want to do the right thing, but probably need to connect more with people like me who can speak to real, boots-on-the-ground issues that affect our business community. Not hypothetical, but real.

Boger: I noticed that you made a mention of specific industries. Mining taxes were definitely a topic du jour at the special session. And again, likely to come up here in the regular session. State revenues are way down, considering tourism has taken a real hit in the pandemic. Is there any room for talk about tax increases at this point, to look at the state's revenues?

Silver: I think there's room to look at new ways of raising revenue. I don't believe, and the chamber doesn't believe, in industry-specific taxes. They're viewed as a burden on one and not the other. So perhaps the legislature can consider an increase in the sales tax for certain items. They can look at property tax reform, which is way overdue. There are ways to raise revenue. We live in a state that prides itself on not having a state income tax, and none of us want to see that develop.

I think the legislators will have to be very creative and innovative and not burden a particular industry with a tax that's meant to help everyone so that you have a small proportion of employers and employees who are raising revenue for everyone else and all the benefits we'll enjoy from that. So, perhaps there's something that can be more uniform and spread across our population of Nevadans that we can agree must occur because we're in very difficult times within the economy and [the] south that has been devastated by the lack of tourism and hospitality. We have more diversity here in the north, but that doesn't mean it's fail-safe. We all need state revenue to increase. And I think it will be led by the foresight of the governor.

This session, Nevada lawmakers are considering three different resolutions meant to increase mining taxes. If any of them are approved, the proposals will then voter approval in 2022. Nevada’s mining taxes have remained unchanged since statehood in 1864.

As a note of disclosure, KUNR receives financial support from the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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