Author: Thomas Mitchell

Forget PILT Checks, Transfer Federal Land to Nevada

It’s that time of year again, when counties in Nevada and across the West squat on the street corner with their alms cups extended anxiously awaiting the tinkling sound of a few coins from the federal till — otherwise known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) — and certain politicians pound their chests and boast of their generosity. Since 1977 Congress has parsimoniously paid out pennies on the acre to local governments to make up for the land the federal government controls but on which it pays no local property taxes. Since 85 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal agencies that is a lot of property tax to forgo. In a recent press release the Interior Department announced it is doling out $552.8 million in PILT payments this year. Of that, Nevada counties are slated to net almost $27 million. “Given that 85 percent of Nevada’s lands are managed by the federal government, the PILT program makes it possible for communities in Nevada to maintain critical public services across large swaths of federal land,” said Nevada Sen. Dean Heller in a statement. “That is why I welcome the Department of the Interior’s announcement that Nevada will receive nearly $27 million in PILT payments, and increase of more than $800,000 from last year. This additional funding will help ensure that Nevada’s rural communities can continue to...

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Free Speech Issues ‘on the Ballot’ in Nevada

The right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak. That includes not being required to pay dues to a union whose political views might be different from yours, not being required to advertise abortion availability at your faith-based pregnancy counseling service, not being required to use your cake baking talent to create a special cake or your flower arranging expertise for a gay wedding. All of these have come down from a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court in the closing days of this year’s court calendar. This past week, the court ruled that public employees could not to be forced to pay dues to unions with which they might not agree. “The First Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, forbids abridgment of the freedom of speech,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the 5-4 opinion. “We have held time and again that freedom of speech ‘includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.’” Public employee unions that advocate higher wages that require higher taxes are intrinsically political. Just the day before the court ruled, again 5-4, that a California law that required pro-life, religious-oriented unlicensed pregnancy centers to place extensive disclaimers in their ads and on billboards telling people about abortion services was an unconstitutional impingement on free speech. “Here, for example, licensed...

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Online Sales Tax Collection Might Not Be Worth It

Before jumping on the bandwagon and trying to snag sales tax revenue from out-of-state online retailers — which a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling now allows — Nevada should crunch the numbers to make sure it is worth the effort. Overturning previous case law the court ruled 5-4 in a case out of South Dakota that local jurisdictions may collect sales taxes from online sellers of goods even if the business has no physical presence there. It has always been the law that the buyers could pay the sales tax, but almost no one ever does. Nevada Democrats immediately began salivating over this potential source of new revenue to spend on their pet causes. The major online retailers Amazon, Walmart and Target already have a presence in every state and pay sales taxes, though third-party vendors who use those platforms and ones such as eBay and Etsy are less likely to pay the tax. According to a press release put out by Nevada Department of Taxation Executive Director Bill Anderson and reported by The Nevada Independent, “In terms of the direct impact on General Fund revenue in the Silver State, this increase in taxable sales has the potential to increase the State’s 2 percent sales tax collections by nearly $30 million annually above what they would otherwise be.” The potential. But the state currently collects almost $1.1 billion a...

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Judicial Bias Depends on the Party Involved

Bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Earlier this year a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by Reno federal Judge Robert Clive Jones involving water rights in the Walker River Basin and ordered him removed from the case, saying he was biased against the federal government’s attorneys. “We reluctantly conclude that reassignment is appropriate here because we believe (1) that Judge Jones would have substantial difficulty putting out of his mind previously expressed views about the federal government and its attorneys, and (2) that reassignment will preserve the appearance of justice,” wrote Judge A. Wallace Tashima, noting that in two previous cases the 9th Circuit had said Jones “harbored animus toward the federal agencies” and that “the judge’s bias and prejudgment are a matter of public record …” In the Walker River case the previous evidence of bias was based on the fact Jones had stated, “[E]ven though the government in many cases didn’t have the right to insist upon a permit … nevertheless, the government in many cases has insisted upon it. … I don’t like and never have liked the BLM’s or Forest Service’s arrogant presumption that they could assess to people for … trespass, their own travel costs, office costs, sitting in their big chair already paid for by the American taxpayer.” Sounds...

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The One Question to Ask Every Candidate

The major party primaries are over and it is on to the General Election this November. The candidates will be making the rounds shaking hands and asking for your vote. So, stick out your right hand and firmly clutch you wallet with your left, then ask where this candidate stands on the question of whether to alter the current property tax law. Back in 2005, when property values across the nation and especially in Nevada were skyrocketing, Nevada lawmakers passed a law capping the annual increase in residential property tax bills at 3 percent and business property tax hikes at 8 percent. (The fact the Nevada Constitution states that all “property belonging to corporations now existing or hereafter created shall be subject to taxation, the same as property of individuals …” is a topic for another day.) The law also created two other caps based on two economic measures — the 10-year average percentage of change in assessed values of homes and the average percentage of increase in the previous year’s Consumer Price Index multiplied by two. The higher of those two figures became the cap so long as it was less than 3 percent. When the housing bubble burst and property values plummeted the law had the perverse effect of allowing some property tax bills to continue to increase even though the property values were on the decline....

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