Supreme Court ruling sought in Assembly deadlock

Gov. Kenny Guinn and Attorney General Brian Sandoval filed a petition early this morning asking the Nevada Supreme Court to order lawmakers to pass a tax plan that properly funds the state budget.

"This is unprecedented in the state of Nevada," said Sandoval as he filed the petition just minutes after midnight. "We're asking the court to order the legislature to meet its constitutional obligation to balance the budget and fund education."

The petition specifically asks the court to find the Legislature in violation of the Nevada constitution for not funding K-12 education and approving a balanced budget to cover that cost by July 1. It asks the court to order lawmakers to pass a budget funding public education and to pass a tax plan "sufficient to defray the estimated expenses of the state" required by the state and education budgets.

And it asks the court to set a specific deadline for lawmakers to comply. Sandoval said what that deadline is would be up to the court.

Justice Bill Maupin said the court would issue an order spelling out how they intend to deal with the petition as soon as possible.

"This is on the front burner," he said pointing out that the court dealt quickly two years ago with the question of whether midnight adjournment could be extended an hour by using daylight savings time.

Sandoval said the petition doesn't specifically seek any punishment against the lawmakers but that, if they fail to get the job done, his office will be forced to seek tougher sanctions from the court.

"If they don't meet the mandates of the Supreme Court, our office will seek a hearing and discuss that."

He declined to go into the options, which could include directing the taxation department to raise certain taxes or taking sanctions against lawmakers.

The Nevada State Education Association is expected to join the legal battle today. Director Ken Lange said the teachers' union lawyers have been preparing legal arguments for two weeks and will almost certainly file either to make their arguments in an amicus brief or as a full intervener in the case.

Lange said opponents of the tax package have "displayed a smarmy indifference to the consequence of their actions while exhibiting a profound ignorance of their duties and responsibilities."

Saying the teachers union won't forget, he added that "we believe it is very likely the next session will also see freshmen in most of those seats."

This quarter's payment to the school districts was released to the school districts Monday -- a total of more than $60 million statewide.

But without a funding bill, the controller's office will be unable to make the next payment in August, leaving school districts short of funding.

Senators Tuesday distanced themselves from the Assembly, passing a resolution that tells the court the upper house has complied with the requirements of Nevada's constitution by passing state and education budget bills as well as a tax plan sufficient to fund them.

Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, expressed frustration with the tax hard liners.

"For some time, some of the leadership hasn't even wanted to sit and discuss this," he said. "It's been 'our way or no way.'"

Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said she was "discouraged, disappointed and dismayed that the state can be held hostage by a few people who represent special interests."

"This body did compromise," she said. "I didn't like everything in the budget. I didn't like everything in the tax package. But by the time the process was over, I realized we are here to represent all the people of Nevada. We did that and I'm proud of it."

But Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, had pointed criticism for what he believes was interference in getting a compromise from the Assembly from "one of the major industries in this state." He said gaming's demands some version of a gross receipts tax be included in the tax plan helped prevent a deal because that tax can't get through either house.

"They may not even have a majority in this house for gross receipts," he said.

Both the Senate and Assembly adjourned, which saves about $8,000 a day in legislator salaries. The cost of the special session has been one recurring issue during the debate. The first 10-day special session earlier in June cost a total of $223,000.

Lawmakers will return either when Raggio and Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, have some deal worked out with the tax hard liners or when ordered to by the supreme court.


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