Judge takes business tax petition under submission
October 13, 2012
In what could be an indication teachers will get their proposed business tax petition through Carson District Court, Judge James Wilson began Friday’s hearing on the proposal by advising counsel he wasn’t sure he ruled correctly when he blocked the previous version of the plan.“I have some concern I might have erred in the Description of Effect ruling in the earlier case,” he said.The initiative petition demands that Nevada legislators create a 2 percent statewide tax on businesses making more than $1 million a year and earmark the revenue, estimated at more than $800 million a year, for K-12 education. Under the initiative process, if lawmakers don’t comply, the issue goes to voters on the next General Election ballot.Wilson also advised both sides he didn’t want to rehash every issue raised in the previous hearing on the first version, saying, “As a practical matter, I think you’re limited to new issues.”He said that includes his pronouncement that the initiative petition complies with Nevada’s requirement that a petition be limited to a single subject even though it amends multiple chapters of state law, adding, “It’s all related to a single subject.”The teachers’ union is banking on the petition moving forward and, according to spokesman Gary Peck, has already collected 55,000-60,000 of the 72,352 valid signatures needed to present the initiative to the 2013 Legislature. He said it is very popular with voters who understand how badly more education funding is needed. The signatures must be submitted to the Secretary of State’s office by Nov. 13.Josh Hicks, representing the pro-business Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs, told Wilson the proposal has “a very tenuous connection to education.” While the estimated $800 million the tax would generate goes into the Distributive School Account, he said it doesn’t prevent the governor and lawmakers from backing out other state money that would have otherwise gone to K-12 education, effectively taking part or all of the business tax revenue away from schools.“There is no guarantee whatsoever that it goes to education,” he said. “It can come out of that account, can be backed out.”Francis Flaherty, representing the teachers’ union, said the initiative clearly states that the proceeds of the tax must be deposited in the account set up to fund public schools. But he conceded that no one can guarantee that the governor and lawmakers won’t reduce other state funds going to education.“An initiative cannot dictate spending levels,” he told Wilson.Hicks argued the 200-word description in the new version of the petition is flawed because it doesn’t state that lawmakers could back other money out of the education budget.When Wilson expressed concern the description doesn’t contain what a voter needs to know, Flaherty told him the concern was valid but that it’s a question for the Legislature.“What the Legislature may or may not do, that’s speculation,” he said. “And respectfully, you’re not allowed to go there, your honor.”He said the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled there must be a compelling showing that the initiative is invalid to block it.“They haven’t done that,” he said of the initiative opponents.Hicks said after the hearing that, no matter which side wins, the case will end up before the Nevada Supreme Court.