Tesla Tax Break Sees Opposition from Nevada Lawmakers During Special Session

Opposition emerged Wednesday as Nevada lawmakers began negotiating over whether to approve a complex package of up to $1.3 billion in incentives for Tesla Motors in a special session ordered by Gov. Brian Sandoval to seal the deal to bring the electric car-maker's $5 billion battery factory to the state.

The Republican governor urged legislators in the two Democrat-controlled houses to seize an ``extraordinary opportunity'' to land the $5 billion ``gigafactory'' and tens of thousands of jobs he says would help pull Nevada from its worst economic crisis in state history.

Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick gaveled the Assembly into session in Carson City at 12:43 p.m. She then accepted public comment on the floor and via Internet hookups in Elko and Las Vegas before calling a mid-afternoon recess to await the formal drafting of bills. Two had been written, but at least two more were in the works.

``It's going to be a long, slow day -- a lot of hurry up and wait,'' Kirkpatrick, D-Las Vegas, told lawmakers of the session that could last one to three days.

A coalition of unions, teachers, environmentalists and minority activists urged lawmakers to move even slower in their consideration of the unprecedented package.

Bob Fulkerson, state director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the group joins in the excitement surrounding Tesla's plans, but its enthusiasm is tempered by questions about the deal brokered in secret with the California-based company.

The governor's plan leaves the door open to other corporations to ``come feed at the tax-break trough,'' Fulkerson wrote Wednesday in an open letter to legislators. ``While some subsidies may be warranted, the deal on the table appears far too generous, and far too risky.''

The package also drew fire from conservatives, including Lee Hoffman, a retired miner and chairman of the Elko County Republican Party, who said the Legislature was in effect picking ``winners and losers'' by extending the tax breaks exclusively to Tesla.

``They will benefit one specific company, one specific industry at the expense of other businesses, other taxpayers, other consumers,'' Hoffman testified from Elko.

Outside the Capitol, backers of a Nevada film tax credit that would be gutted to help pay for the Tesla tax breaks protested with signs that read, ``Keep Nevada Film Alive'' and ``Movie Industry Jobs Are Now.''

Sandoval said the lithium battery factory and its 6,500 workers would generate more than 20,000 construction and other related jobs and up to $100 billion for Nevada's economy over the next 20 years -- a return on investment he estimated to be $80 for every $1 the state spends.

Little opposition has emerged among lawmakers since Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced alongside Sandoval on the Capitol steps last week that Nevada beat out California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico for the factory expected to open in 2017. The venture is critical to cutting costs for Musk's next line of more affordable electric cars.

On Tuesday, lawmakers toured the expansive site at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center along U.S. Interstate 80, about 15 miles east of Sparks.

Even before Sandoval signed the order, dozens of lobbyists had registered to represent more than 30 companies and organizations at the special session, including labor unions, chambers of commerce, school districts, auto dealers, health care organizations, utilities, manufacturing and other trade groups, and even Black Rock City LLC -- organizers of the annual Burning Man counter-culture festival.

Democrats said one of their priorities would be to make sure the jobs go to Nevadans at prevailing wages.

That shouldn't be a problem at the factory where Tesla says hourly pay will average $25 or more. But it could be a sticking point with some Republicans because of the estimated 3,000 construction jobs expected to be needed to build the plant.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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