Nevada Newsmakers

News - May 22, 2019 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar

Nevada Newsmakers

The Republican minority leader of the Nevada State Senate said the Democrat majority in the upper house won't get the single GOP vote necessary for a super majority that would avoid a legal battle over the proposed state budget being considered at the Legislature.

"We've got (less than) 14 days left (in the legislative session),' Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said on Nevada Newsmakers. "So far the only thing they've asked the Republicans to do is to violate the Constitution. All they want is one critical vote to violate the Constitution, that's it. And in my opinion, they are not going to get it."

Nevada law mandates a two-thirds vote in the Legislature on tax increases, although a recent Legislative Counsel Bureau ruling stated the two-thirds vote is not necessary for continuing portions of the Modified Business Taxes that are set to expire.

The MBT extensions, worth about $140 million for the two-year budget cycle, would allow Gov. Sisolak to says he balanced his estimated $8.9 billion general-fund budget without raising new taxes.

Settelmeyer, however, has promised to file suit if Democrats pass a budget without a two-thirds vote. It is not an issue in the Assembly, since Democrats already hold a super majority. But things get sticky in the Senate, where the Democratic majority nor Nevada's Democratic governor have tried to negotiate with the leader of the eight-member GOP caucus, Settelmeter said.

"If they actually want to have some discussions about some things that should not happen, or things that should or additional funding, my door is open," he told host Sam Shad. "And I have yet to be over to the governor's office to have that discussion. We did go over to the Governor's Mansion one time, had some small talk and basically they said they had the legal opinion and had the ability to do this without the Republican Party. That is their decision."

The LCB ruling would first be challenged in District Court but probably end up before the Nevada Supreme Court if Republicans sue. It's constitutional danger goes deeper than just allowing the state budget with tax extensions to be approved by a majority vote, Settelmeyer said.

* First, the ruling allows all future sunset taxes (those set to expire) to continue with just a majority vote, "which breaks all precedent in that building and goes against the tax-restraint initiative," Settelmeyer said.

* Second, more businesses could be forced to pay the Modified Business Tax by lowering the taxable threshold with just a majority vote. "That has never been done before, never interpreted that way," Settelmeyer said.

The current crisis is similar to one that saw the 2003 Legislature go into at least three special sessions, forcing lawmakers to meet in Carson City until almost mid-July in a highly-charged atmosphere.

In 2003, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the Legislature could raise taxes with a simple majority, rather than getting a two-thirds majority, because public education had to be funded. Lawmakers, however, stayed in Carson City until July to get a two-thirds vote and avoid more legal action. The Supreme Court later reversed its opinion after it had caused bad blood statewide. It led to some Justices and lawmakers not getting re-elected. Some schools did not open on time and the hiring of teachers was hampered because of the drawn-out battle.

New education funding

Settelmeyer was also critical of the Democrats plan to revamp the Nevada Plan, which has been the basis of funding public education spending in Nevada since 1967.

Settelmeyer said the new education plan "decimates rural Nevada."

The money necessary to fund public schools in Nevada's rural counties isn't a lot when compared to the money necessary for funding the behemoth Clark County School District -- the fifth largest in the U.S., Settelmeyer said.

"So it doesn't do much for rural Nevada to say the least," he said. "But it only takes $58 to $60 million for rural Nevada and in that respect, it is really worth decimating rural Nevada for $60 million when in the grander scheme of things, in Clark County, it ($60 million) doesn't do much?"

There's a very good chance that teachers in Clark County will go on strike -- as promised -- because of education funding, Settelmeyer said.

"They have indicated that if they see any cuts to the schools, in any way, shape or form, and if they don't get the 3 percent raise that was promised by the governor, that they would strike," he said. "In that respect, I can't see that they don't."

Democrats have already made cuts to some school budgets although money to shore up those accounts may be forthcoming, Settelmeyer said.

"Look at it, they cut $30 million out of school safety," he said. "That's a cut to education. They took money away from the Millennium Scholarship. That is a cut to education. And there are discussions from other individuals that they may back-fill those from other areas, that they just want to make a clear stream of funds to the Distributive School Account. But we will see."