Teachers union modifies ballot initiative to fund schools

The teachers' union has filed a new version of its proposed constitutional amendment to fund schools with higher casino taxes.

The new initiative petition attempts to cure the problems pointed out by senior Judge Miriam Shearing. She agreed with the Nevada Resort Association that the original version went too far when it attempted to lay out how much of the money raised could go for teacher salaries and other educational functions. That, Shearing ruled, invades the Legislature's sphere of power.

The resort association, which represents the major Las Vegas Strip casinos as well as other resorts around the state, is expected to challenge the new version just as it did the initial version. Bill Bible, head of NRA, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The proposed amendment would add 3 percent to the gaming tax, which is actually a percentage fee charged against gross gaming win. It would apply only to Nevada's largest casinos, those making more than $1 million a month. Their rate, currently 6.75 percent, would rise to 9.75 percent with the estimated money dedicated to funding K-12 education.

The tax would generate an estimated $250 million to $400 million a year for Nevada's 17 school districts.

Lynne Warne of Reno, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said they believe they have cured the problems Shearing saw in the original petition.

"We believe after looking at what Justice Shearing said and listening to gaming, we believe this addresses all those concerns," she said. "Even with the changes we've made, the intent is still exactly the same: It's supplemental, they can't supplant what the state is already funding and it's still about salaries and student achievement."

The language divvying up the money by specific percentages for different purposes was removed in the new version of the petition. Union officials said the language that would have included slot route operators in the tax has been removed.

But the new version doesn't fix the argument that this money is distributed per pupil rather than according to the Nevada Plan formula, which adjusts the subsidy in each school district so that, counting all sources of revenue, students receive the same total per-pupil funding. The beneficiaries of that formula are small, relatively poor school districts that don't generate as much sales and property tax revenue per capita as the wealthier counties. The union proposal would, instead, send more of the funding to Clark County.

The new language does nothing to mitigate the argument it violates the state law limiting initiative petitions to just one subject. Lawyers for the resorts argued before Shearing the most obvious violation is that it contains not only a tax increase on casinos but language committing the Legislature to increase school funding every year by a combination of inflation and population growth.

They said that also encroaches on the constitutional powers of the Legislature to decide funding needs for all governmental functions including education.

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