By the Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board, April 19, 2023
Tax hikes on cruise control without voter oversight are poor policy, which is why lawmakers should kill Assembly Bill 359.
Scores of legislative proposals — some awful, some just bad, some good — survived last week’s deadline for committee approval. Among those moving forward was AB359, which would remove Clark County voters from the equation when it comes to future increases in the local gasoline tax. This is a sneaky effort to smooth the way for annual tax hikes in perpetuity regardless of the electorate’s preference.
Back in 2016, Southern Nevada voters easily OK’d Question 5 to raise $300 million for area road improvements. The measure extended for 10 years a 2013 ordinance that tied Clark County fuel taxes to the producer price index, one measure of wholesale inflation. Under the referendum, local fuel taxes will increase by about 3.6 cents a year through 2026, boosting gasoline prices by more than 36 cents over the decade.
At that point, Clark County voters would again have to approve whether to continue indexing fuel taxes to inflation. Or maybe not.
Enter AB359, the handiwork of Daniele Monroe-Moreno, Howard Watts, Clara Thomas and Cameron Miller, all Democrats from Las Vegas. Rather than require voter input on a similar extension in the future, they would simply allow the Clark County Commission to circumvent residents through a single vote. How convenient. Who’s more likely to put the brakes on a never-ending tax hike, Clark County residents or an all-Democrat government board that hasn’t seen a Republican member since 2008?
So under AB359, as long as a two-thirds majority of the seven-member commission signed off by the end of 2026 on yearly tax hikes on motor vehicle fuel, Clark County voters are locked out, and “no further action by the board is necessary to effectuate the annual increases in the taxes imposed.”
AB359 is yet another in a long line of efforts by state lawmakers — mostly Democrats — to prevent taxes passed off as temporary from ever sunsetting. The pattern is familiar: Voters approve higher levies after being told they’ll go away just a few years hence, but when the expiration date arrives, the taxes remain. The lowlight of this distressing trend came in 2019, when Democrat lawmakers embarrassed themselves in their failed effort to convince the state Supreme Court that killing the sunset on a business tax didn’t amount to a tax increase.
AB359 deserves a quick demise. Clark County voters in this case serve as a vital check on government excess. Supporters of extending fuel tax indexing when it expires should make their case to area residents and live with the results.