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Nevada has a tax surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars and the governor says he wants to give back $300-million to drivers. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
PLASKON: Today Governor Kenny Guinn celebrated what he considers free money for Nevadans - and standing in front of a giant symbolic check, he offered a refund for the first time in State history.
GUINN: This is truly a windfall.
PLASKON: He said that this 300 million dollar check is a result of spreading out the tax base in the last legislative session, making the economy more sustainable through the eb and flow of tourism. But under that formula, rising tourism resulted in higher revenues from sales taxes and gaming paid by visitors he says.
GUINN: We would have been in pretty good shape without this huge increase. This increase hasn't come from any other place than tourism and the gaming. Outside of that we would be right back where we started. And I am looking for something so that if this doesn't happen you can take care of the people of Nevada.
PLASKON: A quarter of state revenue comes from gaming and sales taxes. 70 percent of that is paid for by outside entities according to the governor's office he says.
BEERS: That sounds like an over estimate.
PLASKON: State Senator Bob Beers who opposed tax increases in the last legislative session, sees the rebate as a victory for state tax payers.
BEERS: The surplus that we have here was contributed by you and me and Gwen Castaldi and everyone else in Nevada.
PLASKON: He estimates a total surplus of 400 million dollars sits in Nevada's general fund. That's after a 50 million replenishing of the state's rainy day fund, which also took place today. Gwinn says that the complete draining of that rainy day fund in the last legislative session showed that it needs to be augmented. He hopes the legislature will agree to use the 100 million balance of the surplus for that. The governor and staff spent 6 months developing the budget and rebate plan, which he says does not affect any current funding for education, health care and social services. It considered refund options from real-estate taxes to a holiday on sales taxes. But it didn't consider refunding money to every Nevada resident as is done by the State of Alaska with oil revenues. Under Gwinn's proposal, the more cars a Nevadan owned in 2004 the more refunds they get, up to a maximum of 300 dollars per vehicle. Guinn says it's won't mean much income for gaming and commercial companies.
GUINN: They pay, like trucking corporations pay like 930 dollars but you are trying to be fair.
PLASKON: 1.6 million car registrations could be refunded, covering 80 percent of the state's population. The DMV would send out the checks minus any money that the vehicle owner owes to the department. But the legislature has to approve the 300-million dollar plan.
GUINN: It always gets massaged some but I am going to fight to keep this sum in place.
PLASKON: The soonest drivers could get a refund is June. Guinn plans to lay out the details of his complete budgetary plan in his state of the state address January 24th.
Ky Plaskon News 88-9, KNPR