Teachers file petition with more than 80,000 signatures

The Nevada teachers' union filed petitions Wednesday with the Secretary of State's Office to tax businesses more than $250 million a year for education.

Nevada State Education Association President Elaine Lancaster said more than 80,000 registered voters signed the petitions - nearly double the 44,000 needed to put the issue on the November 2002 general election ballot.

First, however, the issue must go to the Nevada Legislature. Lancaster repeated the association's offer to Gov. Kenny Guinn and lawmakers to sit down and work out a more acceptable alternative.

"If this petition goes to the Legislature Feb. 5 and the Legislature can work out some alternative plan that provides the same amount of money, then we will work with them," she told reporters in announcing the end of the petition drive.

The governor and key lawmakers have objected to the plan because it earmarks money which opponents say could lock the state in too tightly if economic conditions change. They also argue it is the Legislature's job to decide which public services need how much money.

But Lancaster said most people would disagree with that.

"Our polling tells us the public wants it earmarked, wants to know where it is going," she said.

She made no bones about the fact that a large share of the money will go to teacher salaries, saying Nevada's average starting wage for a public school teacher is $26,000 compared with $32,000 in California. She said Nevada is also about $2,000 a year below the overall average California teacher's salary.

But she said the petition also calls for significant increases in repair, maintenance, books and computers and other school needs.

And she said it will help cover costs of growth in a state which will need 7,600 more teachers over the next eight years.

If put to the voters and approved, the initiative petition would create a 4 percent tax on the income declared by every Nevada business, including casinos - calculated by the amount declared on the business's federal income tax return.

Businesses would pay only on the income over $50,000 a year, she said, in order to give small companies and home businesses a break.

She said that should raise about $250 million a year. No exact figure is available, she said, because now only casinos are required to report income to the state.

The petition also contains language designed to prevent lawmakers and the governor from "backing out" the money raised by the tax by cutting its current education funding.

She pointed out that the petition drive more than met minimum numbers of signers in all 17 Nevada counties and said she is "very confident" voters will pass the proposed business tax into law if the Legislature and governor don't find a way to increase education funding by at least $250 million a year.

Each county must verify that at least 10 percent of those who voted in the last general election signed the petitions. If 13 counties of 17 meet that test and the total number of valid signatures exceeds 44,009, the measure would go on the November 2002 ballot.

The petition is one of two tax initiatives this year. The other, sponsored by State Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, would raise the gross net proceeds gaming tax from a maximum of 6.25 percent to 11 percent. Gaming officials oppose both measures but say the Neal plan would put a number of casinos out of business and - along with the growth of Indian gaming - severely damage the state's economy.

Neal has not yet submitted his petitions to the secretary of state.


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