Judge rules tax-and-spending initiative can stay on ballot
Saying he won’t ignore the 156,000 people who signed the petition, Carson District Judge Bill Maddox on Monday refused to take the Tax and Spending Control initiative off the November ballot.
Opponents led by Danny Thompson of the AFL-CIO promised an immediate appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Maddox said there is no question the TASC committee filed one version of the amendment and circulated another, and there is no question there is a big difference between the two petitions.
But he refused to strictly read the law requiring a petition be filed with the Secretary of State’s Office before it can be circulated.
“I would like to strictly construe the law, but it makes me ignore 156,000 signatures of people who wanted the initiative on the ballot to limit growth of government,” he said. “I’m not willing to do that.”
Maddox also rejected arguments by Paul More, representing Nevadans for Nevada, the group created to fight TASC, that the initiative deals with multiple subjects and, therefore, violates the law requiring initiatives to deal with just one issue.
“The purpose of this statute and initiative is to limit the growth of government,” he said. “Generally speaking, it all comes under one subject.”
Thompson said opponents would go to the Supreme Court as early as today to try to pull the initiative off the ballot.
More argued the difference between the petition lawfully filed with the secretary of state and the one actually circulated for signatures is far from insignificant. He said fiscal experts, including those at the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Fiscal Division, estimate the difference in spending allowed in just the first year would be more than $1.5 billion statewide.
Joel Hansen, representing petition organizer state Sen. Bob Beers, said both versions were actually filed with the secretary, but that the one actually circulated was filed Dec. 22, while the last official petition language was filed March 8.
He asked Maddox to read the law liberally “so that the real will of the people is not defeated.”
More said there were several versions of the petition filed, but that only the last is valid.
“It simply cannot be that you can file several versions of a petition and later decide which one is valid,” said More.
On the single-subject argument, More said the amendment contains far more than just changes to tax-and-spending rules. He said one example is the restrictions and changes in handling the state’s emergency rainy-day fund, which have nothing to do with taxation.
He said, as written, the ballot initiative contains numerous things the average voter won’t know anything about – exactly the type of thing the single-issue rule was designed to prevent.
But Hansen said the average voter understands that the petition is truly about just one thing – limiting governmental growth. He urged Maddox to reject the challenge.
Maddox agreed with Hansen on that point, but refused to accept his argument that any of those limitations on initiative petitions are unconstitutional.
He agreed with Josh Hicks, representing Secretary of State Dean Heller, that the single-subject rule dates for circulating the petition, requiring it be filed, and mandating a 200-word description of what the petition does are all constitutional and within the power of the Legislature to require.
Thompson said Nevadans for Nevada will ask the Supreme Court to pull the measure off the ballot.
He also said his group has turned over a packet of evidence showing numerous instances of fraud by organizers and professional signature gatherers during the petition drive. He said one affidavit admits there was a party at Lake Mead at which signatures were forged and added to petitions. He said the packet contains evidence of forgery, misrepresentations, multiple entries for the same signer and false addresses, among other problems.
Thompson said his group has asked for a criminal investigation and may take those same charges to federal authorities.
Beers said those allegations are a concern, but that every other charge Thompson and his group have made so far has turned out false, and he was confident this, too, would prove likewise.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.