Round two of union’s plan to tax casinos for schools argued in court
The Nevada Resort Association and the teachers’ union battled it out in Carson District Court on Tuesday in round two of whether the proposed casino tax initiative is legally defective.
Todd Bice, representing the resort association, argued the new version of the petition “is identical to what the original did.” He told Senior Judge Miriam Shearing, sitting on the case because both Carson judges were recused, the new version of the petition attempts to earmark the money for teacher salaries and student achievement just like the first version, which she ruled earlier this year was a violation of state law.
Bice accused the Nevada State Education Association of “log-rolling” – trying to get the public to approve earmarking a large part of the money for teacher raises in order to get the tax hike for student achievement and education in general.
Bice said that was wrapping something popular around something less acceptable and that some might want that money spent in other ways.
Scott Sherer, representing the Las Vegas Sands, said that strategy immediately reminded him of Mary Poppins: “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
Earlier this year, Shearing found the original petition had no right to set how much of the money could go to salaries and other uses, contained more than one subject and had a description that failed to accurately and completely spell out all the effects it would have.
Bice said the new petition still violates the law mandating any initiative to change Nevada’s constitution contain only one subject. He said raising the tax on major casinos 3 percent is one subject, mandating how lawmakers can spend it another and language barring lawmakers from looking at the new money when setting the overall K-12 budget is yet another subject.
Bice described the teachers’ union as “a special interest group trying to designate monies specifically for themselves.”
“The true agenda isn’t to ‘Save our Schools’ (the title of their initiative). It is to get the money for their membership,” he said.
Bice said the new version of the petition still apportions the new money on a per-pupil basis instead of using formulas in the Nevada Plan, the system used to provide per-pupil funding adjusted according to the wealth of individual school districts. That system has been used for the past 40 years in Nevada. The result, he said, is that every district in the state gets less of the new money except Clark, which would get an extra $8.9 million.
The Carson School District, for example, would get $4.7 million in new money. But that is almost $1 million less than it would get through the Nevada Plan formula. In Lyon, the difference would be $1.6 million and Churchill, a half million.
The difference in Douglas would be a minimal $27,450 because Douglas is a relatively wealthy district.
Bice said the teachers don’t want that fact known because it might make voters oppose the amendment, so they deliberately left it out of the description.
Mike Dyer, representing the teachers, said all those arguments are a smokescreen and that gaming is desperate to keep the initiative off the ballot because voters would strongly support more money for education.
He rejected the “log-rolling” argument saying, “You can wrap all the bitter you want in all the sweet if it’s all one subject.”
He said ballot questions make voters choose to accept something less appealing to get something they want all the time and this is no different.
Dyer said a similar example would be raising the real estate tax to build schools – which he said would be perfectly legal.
As for dividing the money on a straight per-pupil basis, he said many other parts of the education budget are done outside the Nevada Plan formulas. Examples would include special education and money for textbooks.
He said in the end, the initiative is one subject because it’s all about raising funding for public education. He said that includes language saying the new gaming money is outside what lawmakers can consider in setting the state education budget because this new tax is intended to supplement existing education funding.
Shearing took the matter under submission.
The case is expected to go to the Nevada Supreme Court no matter which side wins.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.