Straws in Nevada’s wind

Monday was a big day in the state’s economy:

• Sierra Pacific, now called NV Energy, announced that it will file with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada for a rate hike of 14.9 percent in its southern Nevada service territory.

• The same day, CKE Restaurants, Inc. announced three franchise agreements that will open 51 new Carl’s Jr. restaurants in Nevada and Idaho over the next decade.

• The Oasis Casino in Mesquite, formerly a Peppermill, closed part of its casino and all its restaurant operations Monday, though a contract operation of a Denny’s in the building will continue. The Oasis is operated by Black Casinos, which has 2,148 workers in Mesquite. The company would not give a figure for the number of workers laid off.

• The Nevada Economic Forum, which produces revenue predictions the Nevada Legislature must use in building the state budget, has set total general fund revenues for the next biennium (two-year budget period) at $5.65 billion. By comparison, the 2007 legislature approved a $6.8 billion budget for the current 2007-2009 biennium, a reflection of the deterioration of the state’s economy. The current budget must still be cut by more than $300 million. A special session of the legislature is scheduled next week to try to get the state through to the 2009 legislative session, which begins on Feb. 2 next year.

• The Nevada Tax Commission saved the state $70 million by reversing its own decision in a utilities case and denied a refund to a California company. In 2005, the tax commission voted 4-2 to refund $40 million paid by Southern California Edison on coal for its now closed Mojave generating plant in Laughlin on grounds that the coal had already been taxed by Arizona and coal is exempt from taxation in Nevada. Monday the commission changed its mind, saving the state the $40 million plus interest. The rationale for the decision is that the coal had been ground into powder and mixed with liquid for pipeline transport, so it was no longer coal.