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Remedy needed to court’s tax opinion

Nevada Appeal editorial board

The Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling setting aside the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes shouldn’t be allowed to stand.

We understand the U.S. Supreme Court’s reluctance to take up the issue, given its history of permitting state supreme courts to interpret their own states’ constitutions. But that doesn’t mean the state court’s ruling should remain unchallenged, and there are at least three avenues still open:

n The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where John Eastman will next take his argument on behalf of Republican legislators who disagree with the Nevada Supreme Court.

That’s still a federal court, however, and may go along with the logic that says it’s a state matter. To be honest, we tend to agree with that line of thinking, anyway. Although we would like to see this particular opinion overturned, it would not bode well for federal courts to make a habit of interpreting state constitutions.

n Legislation such as proposed by Assemblyman Ron Knecht to cap state spending each year and to clarify that the two-thirds requirement takes precedence over other parts of the constitution.

The Supreme Court’s ruling gave more weight to a constitutional requirement to fund education – a strained interpretation, no matter how you look at it.

There was plenty of money in the state budget to fund education without raising taxes. It was merely a matter of setting priorities, which is clearly the function of the Legislature.

n Jim Gibbons’ proposed “Education First” initiative, which would require the Legislature to first approve an education budget, then move on to the rest of the spending requests.

The initiative addresses directly the issue raised above. It would also hold off the political maneuvering that occurred last summer when critics claimed the 15 Republican holdouts were “anti-education” for trying to reduce the tax increases.

It’s been argued the Nevada court’s opinion is moot because the budget eventually was approved by a two-thirds majority. If that’s true, then the justices never needed to act – which was our argument back when Gov. Kenny Guinn took the matter to court. The issue was still unresolved in the Legislature when the court decided to change the rules.

Nevertheless, the opinion is in the books. As long as it stays there, somebody will try to use it to their advantage – and Nevadans can be sure it won’t be to attempt to lower their taxes.