Hope dims for tax plan passage
With hopes fading on Saturday that any tax plan would escape the Assembly, the governor’s office prepared to take the issue to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, pushed the tax package designed to raise $820 million to another vote Saturday and got exactly the same result as the previous two attempts: 27-15, which is one vote short of the constitutionally required two-thirds majority.
But he and Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, both said they would continue working through to the deadline Monday night.
“Everybody’s trying here, nobody’s stonewalling,” Hettrick said. “But we’ve thrown a million things on the table and eliminated every one of them apparently.”
Gov. Kenny Guinn’s Chief of Staff Marybel Batjer said if they don’t find a compromise by Tuesday, July 1, the governor’s office will petition for a writ of mandamus to force lawmakers to approve a tax package which funds the budget.
Article 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “The legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient to defray the estimated expenses of the state for each fiscal year.”
“If we get to midnight Monday and this isn’t resolved, then we really have no alternative,” said Batjer.”The legislature will be in a situation where they are breaking the constitution of this fine state.”
Lawmakers have already approved and Guinn has signed the budget supporting operations of state government — which can be covered by existing taxes. But the $1.5 billion distributive school account which funds operations of public schools throughout the state hasn’t been — and can’t be — passed without also approving tax increases. Attorney General Brian Sandoval advised them doing so would violate the constitution.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, met with legislative counsel Brenda Erdoes to discuss what will happen when the petition for a writ of mandamus is filed.
“The governor is ready to go,” he said confirming the strategy.
But Batjer said she was holding out hope lawmakers would find a way to break the impasse.
“I think everybody understand’s the gravity of the situation,” she said.
Perkins said the GOP minority’s major problem is still the total. They want about $150 million cut out of the budget to reduce the size of the tax package.
Democrats originally sought $873 million to balance the shortfall. They managed to artificially reduce it by moving $40 million worth of Secretary of State’s fees out of the bill. Most other fees are also outside the tax bill. That reduced it to $820 million but still didn’t sway a single vote.
Perkins said he would continue talk to tax hardliners.
“I’m at the point now where I’m speaking to members one on one,” he said, “asking them what issues they have, what will it take to change their vote.”
Hettrick said the answer is a much lower total tax package.
“There are several in our caucus willing to go for $704 million because that’s what Governor Guinn originally said we have to have to maintain services,” he said. “But the rest of us are way below that.”
Perkins said lawmakers have to find a solution.
“We cannot let this bill fail. We will stay here right up to the last possible moment to accomplish this.”