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Nev. Senate Democrats propose incentives for jobs

Sandra Chereb, Associated Press

Nevada Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, right, talks about a proposal to offer tax incentives to businesses that hire the unemployed during a press conference Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev. Senate Democrats, from left, Justin Jones, Joyce Woodhouse, Mo Denis, Aaron Ford, and Smith answered media questions about a number of measures they say will increase jobs and improve the state's troubled economy. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Democrats in the Nevada Legislature, who have pledged a top-to-bottom review and possible overhaul of Nevada's tax structure, proposed a variety of tax incentives Tuesday that they say will create jobs and aid an economy still trying to gain momentum following the Great Recession.

Democrats insist that the two discussions — tax breaks on the one hand and an overhaul on the other — are not exclusive of each other and can be held in concert.

"It's a big picture," Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said at a news conference with other Senate Democratic leaders.

"We've seen from the recent downturn in our economy that we cannot simply expect one or two industries to sustain the majority of our jobs base," said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. "The bills we've introduced provide immediate remedies to our unemployment rate while implementing a long term vision for a diverse economy."

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, called the Democrat's plan a "retread of stale and failed government programs."

"None of the items introduced by Senate Democrats addresses the core factor that hinders economic growth — the obstacles that Nevada government places in the way of private entrepreneurship," Lawrence said in a statement.

Proposals outlined include a bill co-sponsored by freshman Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, to provide tax breaks to the film industry to lure motion picture and television productions. It's an idea Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, earlier said was not a priority because most states these day offer incentives to the film industry, a factor that often leads to bidding wars and little return on investment.

Lawrence agreed and cited the opinion of the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group, that said such credits fail to live up to their promises.

"States claim these incentives create jobs, but the jobs created are mostly temporary positions, often transplanted from other states," according to a 2011 article on the Tax Foundation's website. "Furthermore, the competition among states transfers a large portion of potential gains to the movie industry, not to local businesses or state coffers."

SB165 would provide a 23 percent tax credit to film companies. Ford didn't have specifics on how many jobs such a credit would create but said details would be coming when there are hearings on the bill. A similar proposal didn't make it out of the 2011 Legislature.

Smith, Denis and Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, are the primary sponsors of SB172, a bill designed to encourage the hiring of the unemployed. It gives employers who hire people who have been out of work for at least six months a break on payroll taxes — a revenue source that some members of both parties say should be abolished because it punishes hiring in a state that leads the nation in unemployment.

"Right now, it's the business tax that we have," Smith said, when asked if the bill was in contradiction to the overall policy question on whether the tax should be eliminated.

Another bill, SB173, would double to $20 million the amount of money for the state's Knowledge Fund. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed $10 million to fund the effort tied to economic development. The goal is to help develop research at the state's universities for commercial use.

Democrats also want to put money back into the state highway fund to spur construction jobs. Sandoval has proposed taking $126 million from the account to balance his $6.5 billion budget plan. Motorists pay the so-called governmental services tax when they renew their car registrations.

SB171, sponsored by Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said putting money back into the highway fund for road maintenance would provide thousands of jobs for construction workers.

The bill also calls for part of the revenue raised through the governmental services tax to be used for bonding to finance road projects.