CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada Democrats promised Tuesday to appeal a judge’s ruling that lawmakers in 2019 improperly approved two funding measures without a constitutionally required two-thirds majority vote - a case that is crucial to the beleaguered state budget.
Republicans called the ruling Monday a victory. However, Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly said Tuesday the ruling could cost the state nearly $100 million in funding for schools.
“Senate and Assembly Democrats wholeheartedly disagree with yesterday’s court decision,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said.
They said they will seek an expedited appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court and a decision before Feb. 1, when the next legislative session starts.
Judge James Todd Russell in Carson City said Monday that voters decided in 1994 and 1996 to require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to increase taxes of any kind - and the intent and the language were clear, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
“An affirmative vote of not fewer than two-thirds of the members elected to each house is necessary to pass a bill or joint resolution which creates, generates or increases any public revenue,” the judge said in court. His written ruling is expected in the coming days.
The challenge by the Senate’s eight Republicans involved bills that extended a business tax rate beyond its original July 2019 end date and a $1 fee paid by motorists that was due to end last July. Together, the measures were projected to generate more than $110 million.
State tax revenue has plunged during the pandemic and lawmakers have made immense cuts to healthcare and education spending to address a projected $1.2 billion shortfall in the state’s $4.5 billion annual general fund budget.
Nevada has no income tax and its budget relies heavily on sales taxes and tax revenue from the gambling, hospitality and live entertainment industries.
Democrats consider the two-thirds tax vote the primary obstacle to diversifying revenue streams and avoiding cuts to state services.
The two funding measures were voted down when they initially came before the Senate as tax measures requiring a two-thirds approval. They passed minutes later, with the two-thirds requirement deleted.
Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said on Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised by his Democratic colleagues’ reaction to thecourt ruling.
“That’s their decision,” he said about their intent to appeal.
Settelmeyer said in 2019 when the bills passed and in this summer’s special legislative session, Democrats had misled the public about already available funds and instead pushed tax increases. He said he was less concerned about debating the merits of taxes and more with protecting the state constitution and its two-thirds threshold.
Ritter reported from Las Vegas.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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