Teachers file petition to raise gaming tax

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal

The Nevada State Education Association on Monday filed a petition to raise $250 million a year for public schools by hiking the tax on Nevada's biggest casinos.

Association President Lynne Warne said both the per-pupil funding for Nevada schools and the amount of tax big casinos pay are among the lowest anywhere in the nation. Warne said she believes the public strongly supports raising more money for schools and that gaming is the best place to get it.

She said if voters agree, the petition would add 3 percent to the gross gaming tax now paid by Nevada casinos earning more than $1 million a month. That would raise their tax rate from 6.75 percent to 9.75 percent, which she said still is among the lowest in the world.

"The average tax rate around the U.S. is in excess of 15 percent," she said, adding that casinos in some other parts of the world pay up to 50 percent in taxes.

At the same time, she said Nevada's per-pupil funding is one of the nation's lowest.

The association's own Web site, however, puts average teacher pay in Nevada right in the middle - 25th, at more than $43,000 a year.

To get on the November 2008 ballot, NSEA will have to collect about 60,000 valid voter signatures by May 20, which Warne said shouldn't be too great a challenge since the union represents nearly 28,000 teachers and other education professionals who can hit the streets to collect signatures.

Assuming they do, NSEA's lawyer Jim Penrose said he expects a court challenge either by casinos directly or their representatives, probably the Nevada Resort Association. Those groups challenged and won, tossing out the previous petition in 2001.

Penrose said the petition can be challenged on two grounds - that it violates the rule requiring initiative petitions be limited to one subject or that the description of what it would do is either incorrect or incomplete.

Opponents have 15 working days to file that challenge; in this case until Dec. 12.

To prevent the governor or Legislature from backing some of the new money out by reducing general fund appropriations to the schools, the petition contains language requiring lawmakers to put at least as much general fund money into school funding as they did the previous two-year budget cycle - adjusted for inflation. It states the new money is intended to be "supplemental."

The petition directs not less than 40 percent of the new money to add instructional days or hours to the school schedules, reduce overcrowding and provide training to teachers as well as tutoring for students.

Another 40 percent would go toward salaries and benefits of employees. But administrative employees of school districts and charter schools are barred from getting that pot of money.

Remaining money can be used to provide incentive pay for nonadministrative employees and other uses.

Gaming officials have said they too see the need for more money for education, but don't believe it should come entirely from their industry. They have asked that a broader based tax or fee be considered.

Warne said the association is confident it can get the signatures, win in court and win in the 2008 and 2010 elections. But she said they are still open to negotiations with gaming to discuss support for a broader based revenue source.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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