Petition Drive Aims To Repeal Nevada Tax Increase

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The leader of a petition drive to repeal the Legislature's record tax increase is denying his group would accept a smaller tax increase, and insisting that voters should throw out the entire $836 million increase.

George Harris said Monday that his previous statements that Nevadans for Sound Government would support keeping $131 million in tax increases were in error.

"I never claimed to be a budget expert," Harris told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "I really didn't know everything that was in the tax bill. But 90 percent of the people who voted for it didn't know what they were voting for."

Harris said he was not certain of the effects of the tax petition, adding that he was relying on his organization's attorney, Joel Hansen, to draw it up and interpret it.

Harris' group is challenging the tax package the Legislature passed in July. The effort needs 51,234 valid signatures by May 18 to put a measure before voters in November 2004.

Harris said a growing Nevada economy should produce $400 million more a year in tax revenue - enough to cover growth requirements for public education.

Though not specific where Gov. Kenny Guinn and the Legislature should make cuts, Harris said the state should reduce spending in other areas.

Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, a leader of a Republican caucus that fought the tax package, refused an invitation to attend an Oct. 31 rally in Carson City kicking off the signature-collection drive. He said he probably will not sign Harris' petition.

"It may be too much and it would open a Pandora's Box," Hettrick said. "We would have to come back into session and do it again."

Hettrick said only three or four of the 19 Republicans in the Assembly favored no tax increases, and said there was enough support among other Republicans to pass a $704 million increase without a major battle. Hettrick pushed for a plan to increase taxes by $636 million.

Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said he intends to sign the tax petition. He supports increasing spending by no more than the rate of population growth and inflation.

A recent poll commissioned by the Review-Journal showed 45 percent of respondents favored rolling back the tax increases and 43 percent opposed a repeal. The remaining 12 percent were undecided or had no opinion.

State Budget Director Perry Comeaux said he would not be surprised to see the group collect enough signatures, but questioned whether voters then would pass the proposal.

If voters repeal the tax increases, the Legislature likely would be called by Guinn into a special session to cut the budget or approve other types of tax increases.

Lawmakers would be prohibited from increasing the types of taxes voters repealed, but could raise other taxes.

Guinn spokesman Greg Bortolin said the administration estimated a tax increase of at least $704 million was necessary to fund state services at current levels.