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Nye on Nevada, July 10

Report: A third of Nevadans live in distressed communities

On paper and with high-profile projects rising from the Nevada desert, the state’s economic recovery is in full swing. The jobless rate is down and companies are moving to the region, all good news for a state hit hard by the Great Recession.

But a new analysis being released today shows many communities in the Silver State are still struggling and have a long way to go in the cycle of economic rebirth.

Economic Innovation Group, a Washington bipartisan policy group, found that 33 percent of Nevada’s population lives in economically distressed communities, the highest percentage in the nation.

Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi followed, each with 25 percent of their populations living in economically distressed communities. At the other end of the spectrum were states like Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont, Iowa and Idaho, with distressed populations of 1 percent or less.

The index is based on a number of factors, including education levels; housing vacancy and unemployment rates; poverty levels; median income ratios; percent change in employment; and percent change in establishments in ZIP codes across the country. They were largely based on Census data from 2013 and five-year Census Bureau surveys on communities and business patterns.

EIG’s mission, according to its website, is “to catalyze broad-based economic growth by leveraging the power of entrepreneurs and investors through innovative public policy.”

Although Nevada gives tax breaks to lure companies that meet criteria to the state, EIG said that alone is not enough to jump-start new business growth.

Though Nevada’s economy has made gains in the past few years, the index shows just how devastating the recession was for the state and Las Vegas in particular, said John Lettieri, co-founder and EIG senior policy director.

Of major metropolitan areas around the country, the EIG analysis ranked Las Vegas as having the fourth highest percentage of population in economic distress at 45 percent.

Lettieri said there is a correlation between communities in economic distress and the depth of the housing crisis that saw home prices plummet, leaving many homeowners upside down on their mortgage.

That negative equity also diminished private investment capital, a revenue source often tapped by people seeking to start their own business.

Sandra Chereb

BLM, organizers still at odds over Burning Man

A month and a half before the scheduled start of this year’s desert festival, organizers of the annual Burning Man in Northern Nevada have yet to resolve more than 15 health and safety issues stemming from last year’s event, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Officials from the BLM and the Burning Man organization were meeting Wednesday in Reno to discuss outstanding issues in advance of the Aug. 30-Sept. 7 festival in the Black Rock Desert.

The federal agency has yet to issue a permit for the event. John Ruhs, the BLM acting Nevada state director, said all conditions raised in a post-event review last year must be addressed for the BLM to allow this year’s event to proceed.

Ruhs stopped short of saying the BLM might shut down Burning Man, expressing confidence an agreement could be worked out.

But the agency took the unusual step of making public a letter listing the outstanding health and safety issues. Of 20 compiled following the 2014 festival, the BLM said 18 remain to be resolved including improvements to its medical program, transportation management and security surrounding the festival’s signature burn events.

“Last year, a total of 2,880 patients were treated for medical issues, including 71 drug overdoses, 67 trauma incidents and 30 cases of alcohol poisoning,” Ruhs said in the letter to the government affairs director of Black Rock City, LLC, the nonprofit that runs the festival. In addition, a woman from Wyoming was killed when she fell beneath a moving bus.

The Burning Man festival spokesman was traveling on Wednesday and not immediately available for comment.

The BLM letter shed light on the nuts and bolts behind the event in which 60,000 to 70,000 people congregate at the art and counterculture festival in the remote playa.

The BLM making potentially embarrassing public health and safety issues with Burning Man is the latest twist in the relationship between the agency and the festival that this year has been anything but routine in the history of the event that dates to the early 1990s in Nevada.

The bureau came under withering criticism earlier this month after it proposed Burning Man pay for a separate compound for federal working staff with amenities such as refrigerators, washing machines, vanity mirrors, flush toilets and food choices including ice cream and steak.

The agency is reworking a proposed memorandum of understanding for the event after pressure from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other federal lawmakers. BLM Director Neil Kornze is a former Reid aide.

Steve Tetreault

Details of new commerce tax causing sweat

The Department of Taxation began the nitty-gritty task Tuesday of figuring out how to implement Nevada’s new commerce tax, part of a $1.1 billion revenue package approved by lawmakers six weeks ago.

Now it’s up to department officials to develop regulations defining provisions of the law and setting clear direction on how rates will be determined and applied.

While the concept seems straightforward, questions raised by attendees of the first agency workshop on the law suggests otherwise.

Deonne Contine, state taxation director, said more workshops will be held as officials sift through questions, confusion, concerns and recommendations.

The commerce tax law that took effect July 1 imposes a gross receipts tax on businesses with $4 million or more in annual revenue. Tax rates depend on the type of industry. Businesses subject to the tax can apply half of what they pay as credit toward any payroll taxes owed.

The first commerce tax payment is due Aug. 15, 2016, based on revenue obtained as of July 1, 2015.

“It really is not our intent to go after small businesses that are nowhere near the $4 million threshold,” Contine said.

Sandra Chereb

Sandra Chereb and Steve Tetreault cover politics for the Las Vegas Review-Journal

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