Tax reform tops issues facing 2013 Legislature
February 3, 2013
The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday added one more puzzle piece to the list of issues facing the 2013 Legislature when it convenes Monday.In a unanimous decision, the court reversed a district court order invalidating the teachers’ union’s business tax initiative. That sends the 2 percent tax on all businesses earning more than $1 million a year to the legislature. If lawmakers don’t pass it in 40 days, the proposed tax statute goes on the 2014 general election ballot for voters to decide. Teachers say if that happens, they expect a strong majority of Nevadans would support the tax.The tax would generate an estimated $800 million a year to the Distributive School Account, which funds K-12 education in Nevada.Both Republicans and Democrats agree the existing tax structure badly needs reform. Every study since late 1960s has described Nevada’s tax base as too narrow and vulnerable to economic fluctuations.The initiative just adds another layer to the overall debate on Nevada’s tax structure, which is expected to be the focus of debate during this session.Republicans, who have repeatedly expressed optimism that they and the majority Democrats would be able to craft solutions to the tax system’s weaknesses, responded to the Supreme Court decision by saying it basically ends any chance for meaningful tax reform this session.One suggestion that has some traction is extending Nevada’s sales tax to include services. At present, only goods are taxed and the biggest annual spending by most families — food and medicines — are exempt. Studies indicate that well over half of all transactions now involve services, not goods. That includes everything from a mechanic’s time fixing the car to attorney fees.Both sides of the aisle have indicated a willingness to look at taxing services, which they say would enable the state to actually reduce the overall sales tax rate without giving up revenue.Tax reform isn’t the only issue facing the 2013 session.School choiceOne issue pushed down in recent sessions that will be back in play this time is expansion of charter schools, school vouchers and other such innovations. Public school advocates say those options just take tax dollars away from public schools that are already struggling to provide students with a quality education. Supporters including Nevada’s new Superintendent of Education and Gov. Brian Sandoval have said they support more school choice. James Guthrie said at a recent forum Nevada should triple the number of charter schools, which now number just about 30. Sandoval has said he supports vouchers so parents can place their children in the school system they believe is best.Construction DefectsConstruction defects legislation, which has been blocked by Democrats in several recent sessions and was totally blocked by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera in the 2011 session, is already in a bill draft by Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas. The bill would set the statute of limitations for filing suit over a defect at three years instead of the 10 years now in statute. It would also redefine what a defect is and eliminate the guaranteed legal fees for lawyers in defect cases which some say just encourages them to push all cases to court.GunsGun violence is the subject of several proposed statutes. Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, wants to expand the definition of justifiable homicide and allow concealed weapons on Nevada’s college campuses. Guns on campus was hotly debated last session and narrowly defeated.On the other side of the coin, Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, wants to require statewide registration of guns and require background checks for private weapon sales at gun shows.Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, has called for legislation to toughen the system designed to keep guns out of the hands of the dangerous mentally ill. He said the key is getting those people listed in the National system that tells gun dealers whether the buyer can legally have a firearm.Higher EducationSupporters of Western Nevada College headquartered in Carson City and Great Basin College in Elko say they will fight to prevent the new university funding formulas from taking any more money away from those two institutions. Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the governor’s proposed budget would mean a 10-15 percent cut on top of the damage those colleges have suffered in the past two budget cycles.“They can’t take any more cuts and wont,” he said.ImmigrationRepublicans, conceding at both the national and state levels, that their hard line opposition to meaningful immigration reform is costing them votes among the burgeoning Hispanic population, have changed their tune. In Nevada, both the majority and minority leaders of the Senate are supporting a bill that would create a driving identification card allowing undocumented immigrants to drive and obtain insurance. More legislation along those lines is expected as the session moves forward.This past week, Nevada Republican leaders endorsed the idea of a path to U.S. citizenship for illegals in the U.S. The shift came after party officials realized President Obama won nearly 80 percent of Nevada’s Hispanic votes last November.DrugsSen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, is pushing to create a system that provides medical marijuana to those with a physician’s permission and state issued card. Medical marijuana is legal but there is no legal way for patients to get the drug.At the same time, lawmakers will see legislation to make it even more difficult to get pseudoephedrine, the over-the-counter cold medicine ingredient used to make methamphetamine.Election ReformSecretary of State Ross Miller created a minor storm among fellow Democrats when he called for a statewide voter ID system based on pictures of voters to confirm their identity at the polls. Opponents charged that would not only cost a fortune but disenfranchise thousands of the young, the poor and minorities who are less likely to have an official state voter identification card.But Miller was able to somewhat temper the protests by saying the system could link to the Department of Motor Vehicles licensing and ID card system to capture photos of voters. He also said those without such identification could have their picture taken at the polls and sign an affidavit declaring who they are, then vote like anyone else.He also made headway when the estimated costs from his office and the various county elections officials were totaled. The tab came in at $787,000, far lower than predicted. Miller said that would provide every voting station in the state with electronic poll books linked to DMV. He said security would be improved while no one would be denied the right to vote.