Referendum filed on business taxes
Opponents of Nevada’s new business taxes have filed a referendum to repeal the levies along with a federal lawsuit that would make it a lot easier to collect the necessary signatures.
Dan Burdish of Nevadans for Tax Restraint said the referendum asks voters to repeal both the modified business tax and the similar payroll tax on financial institutions. Between them, those two new taxes would generate more than $360 million of the $836 million projected for the entire tax package.
“Most people aren’t too happy because most people know that businesses aren’t going to end up paying those taxes.
“But it’s a win-win situation because if we take this to a vote of the people and they say, yes, we want to keep the payroll tax, then it’s what the people want. It’s etched in stone and we keep it.”
He said the referendum will answer the question once and for all.
“I’m opposed to it,” he said. “It’s going to cost my businesses about $5,000 a year.”
He said he won’t take it out of his employee’s benefits or future pay raises. Instead, he said he was forced to raise prices at his auto repair business in Southern Nevada.
At the same time, Burdish and State Sen. Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, are suing in U.S. District Court to make the task of getting the tax issue on the ballot easier.
The suit challenges the state constitutional requirement requiring initiatives and referendums to not only gather signatures totaling more than 10 percent of the number of ballots cast in the last general election, but to meet that minimum in at least 13 of the state’s 17 counties.
The suit, joined by the Initiative and Referendum Institute and U.S. Term Limits Inc. – both of Washington D.C. – seeks to throw out the multi-county signature gathering requirement. A similar Idaho state statute was recently tossed out by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“Based on the Idaho case, Nevada’s requirement is likely to fall as well,” Burdish said.
If successful, those pushing a petition drive could gather signatures in just Reno and Las Vegas or even Las Vegas alone to meet the minimum. That would cut their costs and simplify the process of putting something on the ballot.
Tiffany supports the suit because her initiative seeking to allow counties to have more than one school district failed four years ago due to the rule. Her goal was to divide the Clark County School District into two separate districts. It failed to get on the ballot by just 28 signatures in Mineral County – leaving the petition qualified in only 12 counties.
To get on the November 2004 ballot, the two business tax petitions must each get signatures from at least 51,243 registered voters by May 18. Whether they can collect them all in one or two urban counties instead of statewide depends on the outcome of the federal lawsuit.
The petition drive is separate from that begun last month by George Harris of the Republican Liberty Caucus and officials of the Independent American Party who are seeking to toss out almost the entire package of tax and fee increases approved by lawmakers to balance the 2003-2005 state budget.
That petition drive has run into questions from the Secretary of State’s office over whether it is legally proper because it doesn’t include the full text of the legal language being repealed but, instead, just refers to the repealed sections of the law by number.
Secretary of State Dean Heller’s office has warned organizers the petition might not withstand legal challenge. Harris said earlier this week that would force them to circulate an 80-page petition and they don’t believe that is legally necessary.
By contrast, the petitions submitted by Burdish and Nevadans for Tax Restraint do contain the full language of the business tax proposals they would repeal.