RENO — Two political action committees have raised nearly $900,000 for a campaign to persuade Washoe County voters to raise local sales taxes this fall to finance improvements in the county’s overcrowded school system.
The November ballot measure would permanently increase the county’s sales tax rate to 8.265 percent, up from 7.725 percent.
That would be the highest rate ever levied in any county in Nevada. Only 10 states charge more in combined sales taxes, according to the nonpartisan research group Tax Foundation.
There is no organized opposition to the tax hike, but over the past 12 years, Washoe County voters have rejected every school funding measure put before them.
Backers of this year’s ballot question include chamber of commerce and local business leaders who usually oppose tax hikes, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The $886,000 raised so far by the two PACs — Save Our Schools and Educators for Washoe Schools — exceeds the total for the last three ballot measures combined.
“They’re raising the most money ever,” said Fred Lokken, political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College. “It will be a level of fliers and advertising that the public has never seen before.”
Previous campaigns to increase school funding in 1998, 2002 and 2008 totaled $559,000, when adjusted for inflation, the newspaper reported, citing election records.
“The funding is one indicator (of support), but every business group, community group and elected official is on the same page,” said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. “The community gets it. We need this tax increase.”
Kazmierski said the reality is a stark one if the increase fails, given overcrowded schools are pushed well past their enrollment limits.
Without a wave of funding for new schools, the district says it will be forced to put students in worse situations. The district already is using 240 portable trailers as classrooms and can’t fit any more at many campuses.
Schools would be left to their last resort, according to district officials. For elementary schools, that means storage rooms turned into classrooms, two classes of students crammed into the same room and eventually year-round classes. For overcrowded middle and high schools, district officials say double sessions are the only way out, rushing two schools’ worth of students through a campus each day.
Save Our Schools officials say they’re trying to meet a fundraising goal of $1.4 million by Election Day on Nov. 8.
“We aren’t kidding ourselves,” said Abbi Whitaker, whose public relations firm was contracted by a coalition of local businesses and special-interest groups to lead the SOS campaign. “This will be a battle.”