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Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak greets supporters after he won the Democratic gubernatorial primary election on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The Republican Governors Association has launched a new TV ad suggesting Democrat Steve Sisolak’s votes over the years to raise certain taxes and fees suggest he’ll do the same thing if elected governor.

The group, which is supporting Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt in the race, said it launched the commercials on Tuesday but declined to say exactly how much it would be spending on the ad campaign. Tax issues are bound to be a wedge in the race between Sisolak, who’s described himself in the past as a “conservative Democrat,” and Laxalt, who said he’d sign a no-new-taxes pledge and supports repealing the Gov. Brian Sandoval-backed Commerce Tax (although actually doing so would be a political long shot).

“Now that he’s running for governor, Sisolak is threatening to impose even more tax hikes, including hiking taxes on Nevadans’ homes,” said RGA Communications Director Jon Thompson. “Sisolak says every tax hike is ‘on the table’ and make no mistake, that’s one promise Sisolak would keep.”

Sisolak’s team shot back over the commercial, saying it was misleading and highlighting the RGA’s funding sources. The top three donors to the group in the 2016 cycle were the Venetian Resort owned by Sheldon Adelson, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Koch Industries, directed by influential conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

“This sort of misleading attack ad is exactly what we’d expect from a Koch-funded Laxalt-ally like the RGA,” said Sisolak spokesman Grigsby Crawford. “Steve is fighting for the issues that matter most to Nevadans, and as governor he’ll always put their interests — not the Koch’s agenda — first.”

Raising Taxes and Fees

The ads starts with: “What do we really know about Steve Sisolak? We know he likes to raise taxes, a lot. As County Commissioner, Steve Sisolak repeatedly voted to raise taxes and fees.”

Sisolak and his fellow members of the Clark County Commission voted 6-1 on Nov. 15, 2016 to raise the tax on hotels in the Las Vegas resort corridor from 12 cents on the dollar to 13.38 cents. Of the two-part increase, 0.5 percentage points went to support an expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and 0.88 percentage points went to support the construction of the Raiders’ football stadium, although that portion is 0.5 points outside the Las Vegas Strip area.

The ad then scrolls through a long list of other fees Sisolak supported and that passed the commission unanimously. The fees and their accompanying votes were:

  • Water Rates: Sisolak, acting as a member of the Las Vegas Valley Water District board, voted in 2015 to raise water rates over the course of three years to help pay for a deep-water pumping station in Lake Mead. The hike was expected to raise the average residential customer’s bill by $5 a month.
  • Business Licenses: On Nov. 17, 2015, Sisolak supported a $25-per-year county-level licensing fee for drivers with ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.
  • Hospital Beds: On June 16, 2015, Sisolak supported a 3 percent price increase for room rates at University Medical Center, the county-run hospital.
  • Ambulance Rides: On Jan. 19, 2016, Sisolak voted to raise fees for ambulance service. The changes, for example, included raising the fee for critical care transport from $790 to $1,142, and the per-mile fee from $18.82 to $27.21.
  • Permits: Sisolak voted on Jan. 5, 2016 to raise the base fee for a fire permit from $80 to $90. Such permits are required for having fire inside a restaurant or nightclub, or pyrotechnics at a concert, for example.
  • Recreational Activities: On Oct. 21, 2014, Sisolak voted to raise fees at the Clark County Shooting Complex from $8 to $10 an hour for community and nonprofit groups, and up to $20 for commercial groups.
  • Marriage Licenses: On July 21, 2015, Sisolak voted to raise the price of a marriage license from $63 to $77. The extra $14 is aimed at promoting wedding tourism, which has declined from its peak.
  • ATM Transactions: On Sept. 21, 2010, Sisolak voted to raise the fee for non-member ATM transactions at Clark County Credit Union from $1 to $2.50.

Raising Tuition

The RGA ad states that “when he was university regent, student tuition doubled.”

Sisolak was elected to the board of the Nevada System of Higher Education in 1998 and served until 2008.

According to data from the Chronicle for Higher Education, in-state tuition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas rose from $2,116 per year in 1998 to $4,493 in 2008. For the University of Nevada, Reno, that number rose from $2,254 per year to $4,561.

He also voted in 2008 to raise in-state tuition by 5 percent in each of the subsequent two school years.

Property Taxes

Sisolak has suggested that he would support adjusting property tax caps — which have kept rates from rising as fast as they otherwise would given a rebounding economy — as a way to support his plan for improving Nevada’s education system. Among his goals is paying teachers a better salary — they currently start at $40,900 in the Clark County School District.

Otherwise, he’s been careful to avoid affirmatively committing to any tax increase. In a debate with his Democratic primary opponent Chris Giunchigliani, he didn’t raise his hand when asked if he’d promise not to raise taxes.

“I cannot predict what could happen in the next four years,” he said. “I cannot categorically say I would sign one piece of the legislation, veto another one, raise one tax, eliminate one program. I think it would be irresponsible to do that. I can say that I would look for what’s best in the interest of the citizens of Nevada. I think there are things that we need to address. The only, everything’s on the table in my administration.”

The RGA ad seizes on the statement in the ad, saying that “now Steve Sisolak wants to raise taxes again as governor.”

“Everything is on the table,” the narrator says. “With a record like his, that’s one promise Steve Sisolak will keep.”

Disclosure: Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
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