Geoff Dornan

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April 11, 2008
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Casinos appeal district court decision on teachers' tax petition

The Nevada Resort Association and Las Vegas Sands are appealing the district court ruling that would allow the teachers' union to try to qualify their gaming tax petition for the November ballot.

Senior Judge Miriam Shearing ruled April 3 that the proposed constitutional amendment raising gaming taxes 3 percent to 9.75 percent of gross win and dedicating the money to public schools did not violate the law by containing more than one subject.

She also ruled that the 200-word description of effect did not leave out major, important impacts the proposed constitutional amendment would have.

The notices were filed this week in Carson District Court, followed by an emergency motion to the Supreme Court for an expedited decision aimed at stopping the signature gathering. That motion points out the deadline for submitting the signatures to the Secretary of State's office to qualify the petition for the ballot is May 20.

"Immediate consideration of this appeal is sought, in part, because the Resort Association believes that the proposed description of effect is particularly deficient," NRA lawyer Todd Bice says in that motion. "It deviates from the Secretary of State's approved form and omits disclosing the initiative's most serious effect - that the state's education budget for each biennium will be voided for any violation of the initiative's provisions."

"Obviously now is not the time to debate whether such a remedy, voiding the state's education budget, is a good idea. But the district court did not believe that prospective signers have to be told of this effect."

The emergency motion says Shearing's ruling simply ignored that.

Bice also argued the initiative petition contains more than one subject because it would raise taxes, dedicate the money specifically to teacher salaries and "student achievement" and mandate the entire education budget be voided if the Legislature tries to consider this new money - estimated at $250 million a year - as a way to lower its commitment to funding schools.

"This matter merits immediate resolution as the (Nevada State Education Association) should not be allowed to use an unlawful description and then protest that it is too late if it obtains the necessary signatures."

The resort association said it would file opening briefs and the entire case record by April 21 and that NSEA could file its response in two weeks by May 5.

The motion asks that the court try to render a decision before the May 20 deadline.

To get on the ballot, the teachers must collect 58,628 signatures from registered Nevada voters.

Appeals before a petition getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot are limited to challenges that the description of effect is misleading, incomplete or wrong and to arguments it violates the single subject requirement.

State law mandates that a petition be limited to a single subject so that voters aren't convinced to accept unpopular provisions in order to get something more popular. NRA argued in district court voters might support the idea of an added gaming tax but might object to other parts of the plan, such as a change in distribution of education funding that increase the share of cash going to Clark County.

NRA also argued the provision voiding the entire education budget if, somehow, a mistake was made by the Legislature, is not something most people would vote for.

The casino tax is the second attempt by the teachers' union to impose a specific tax to increase public school and teacher salary funding. The first, in 2000, was kept off the ballot by the Supreme Court for some of the same reasons NRA cited in fighting this petition. It would have levied a 4 percent tax on all Nevada businesses.

No briefs have been filed yet by either the resort association or the Sands.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Apr 12, 2008 03:44PM Published Apr 11, 2008 03:00AM Copyright 2008 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.