Amendment may be proposed for Washoe school bill |

Amendment may be proposed for Washoe school bill

Associated Press

Instead of state lawmakers approving property and sales tax hikes to fund maintenance projects at Washoe County schools, an amendment is being drafted that would authorize the local school board to enact the measures on its own, legislators said Monday.

The Assembly Taxation Committee is scheduled to take up Assembly Bill 46 today. As written, the measure would require Washoe County commissioners to raise the county sales tax rate by a quarter percentage point and add a nickel to the property tax rate.

But getting a tax bill through the Legislature requires a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and Senate. Amending the bill to authorize the school board to raise the taxes, however, would not.

Lawmakers said the two-thirds threshold was not the main thrust behind seeking an amendment.

Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Las Vegas, said there was concern about the initial wording because lawmakers were uncomfortable mandating another government body – the Washoe County Commission -impose a tax.

She said enabling the school board to do it “allows them to make the decision” after a public process.

The bill is being sought by the Washoe County School District to pay for more than $500 million in needed improvements, such as leaky roofs and broken heating and cooling systems.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said he has asked legislative lawyers to research whether another amendment could be drafted giving senior citizens and people on disability an alternative to “opt out” of paying the higher property tax rate.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he supports the school district bill. While the state’s largest school district in Clark County obtains money for maintenance through a variety of sources – property taxes, room taxes and real property transfer taxes – Washoe County’s revenues come strictly from property taxes, a revenue stream severely diminished in the wake of the Great Recession when Nevada’s housing market collapsed.

Kieckhefer on Monday introduced another bill, SB146, that would exempt schools and Nevada’s higher education system from the requirements of prevailing wage laws for capital improvement projects.

Critics say the law is too closely tied to union wages and artificially inflates the cost of such projects.

Kieckhefer said his bill will have an “uphill climb” in the Democratically controlled Legislature, but added, “I also believe it’s my responsibility to be a sound, fiscal steward” of taxpayer money.