Lawmakers Says No Tax Hike For University Projects

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University officials who might ask the Legislature for a tax increase next year to support their construction wish list may need a backup plan.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, says any kind of a tax increase, even a 1-cent increase in the property tax rate to fund state construction needs, "is a dead issue."

"Nothing that looks or smells like a tax increase is going to get any major support next session," he said Tuesday.

The 2003 fight over record tax increases was so fractious, Raggio said, lawmakers have no interest in debating revenue increases again next year.

Regents meeting in Elko this week will finalize their recommendations for a building program for consideration by Gov. Kenny Guinn and the 2005 Legislature. The agenda states that the discussion of capital projects might include a proposed property tax increase.

The preliminary program calls for nearly $200 million in state bond funding. Only $180 million is available for all state agencies next year, but that figure is not yet final.

One possible solution for expanding the bond capacity would be to raise the property tax rate levied by the state for construction to 17 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the current 16 cents. A penny increase approved last year generated about $113 million in increased bonding capacity.

Greg Bortolin, Guinn's spokesman, said any discussion of another penny increase in the property tax rate is premature. Rapid growth in state property values might generate enough bonding capacity for needed state and university projects for the coming two-year budget, he said.

Jim Richardson, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and the chief lobbyist for the Nevada Faculty Alliance, said major research construction needs exist at both state public universities and the Desert Research Institute, and the rapidly growing Community College of Southern Nevada needs more classroom space.

If the higher education system is going to play its role in diversifying the state economy, it needs expanded research capabilities, he said.

Without more funding, the system probably will get about $120 million in state bond money for construction, Richardson said.