The Nevada Supreme Court makes a strong political argument for its interpretation of the constitution's two-thirds majority requirement to raise taxes. Unfortunately, its job is supposed to be to decide the law.
In that respect, the five justices signing the majority opinion arrive at two flawed conclusions -- and leave Nevadans with a court opinion that will come back to haunt them in future legislative sessions.
Before we get to those two points, however, we want to acknowledge Justice Bill Maupin once again was correct in his dissent:
"We must recognize that such initiatives (as the one requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes), however inconvenient to the operatives of government they may be at times, represent the ultimate form of citizen consent to government," Maupin wrote. "Accordingly, it is not for us, the Supreme Court of this state, to criticize the wisdom of a valid initiative embraced by an overwhelming majority of Nevadans."
The court's opinion issued last week expounded on its July ruling, when the justices told the Legislature it could raise taxes by a simple majority -- despite the constitutional provision noted above by Maupin.
This fresh treatise, however, simply repeats the same arguments -- that the court needed to step in to resolve a legislative impasse that was causing a fiscal crisis, and that a constitutional requirement to fund education outweighed the two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
Neither is true.
The amounts of money Nevada's government collects and spends are political decisions to be made by the Legislature. By declaring a "crisis" -- and then using that excuse to waive a constitutional requirement -- the court overstepped its bounds.
This is evident from the second incorrect assumption made by the court -- that the Legislature had somehow failed its constitutional mandate to fund public education.
No such thing was true. There was plenty of revenue to pay for Nevada's schools -- but not enough to pay for schools and everything else.
In other words, the court used one piece of the budget -- education -- to allow legislators to raise taxes by a simple majority to meet the entire budget. The court usurped the Legislature's authority to set spending priorities.
The court was correct in noting there is a conflict between a simple majority to approve a budget and a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. It's a conflict for the Legislature to resolve.
As it stands, with the Supreme Court's ruling intact, we foresee the two-thirds majority being waived whenever it becomes, in Maupin's word, inconvenient.