By Thomas Mitchell
So, the governor is confident that the extension of the modified business tax rate will withstand a legal challenge, according to both the Las Vegas newspaper and the online Nevada Independent.
“We’ve got legal opinion from LCB (Legislative Counsel Bureau) that, you know, a simple majority is what’s needed,” Gov. State Sisolak was quoted as saying Tuesday. “I’ve been in government for 20 some-odd years, and if you don’t trust your attorneys, you’ve got a problem. So I’m confident that the attorneys gave us a good opinion. We’ll move forward from there.”
Be prepared to move back, governor, by nearly $100 million in your budget for the next two years — the budget that promises 5 percent raises for teachers.
Republicans have promised a legal challenge if the business tax was extended without a two-thirds majority of both houses as prescribed by the Constitution. The tax extension passed the Senate on a party line vote of 13-8, one vote shy of two-thirds.
Voters in 1994 and 1996 amended the Nevada Constitution to state “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 in any form, including but not limited to taxes, fees, assessments and rates, or changes in the computation bases for taxes, fees, assessments and rates.”
The modified business tax passed in 2015 by a two-thirds vote of lawmakers contained specific language saying the rates would be reduced in 2019 if tax revenues exceeded a certain level, which they have.
But the compliant LCB told the majority Democratic lawmakers and the Democratic governor, “It is the opinion of this office that Nevada’s two-thirds majority requirement does not apply to a bill which extends until a later date or revises or eliminates a future decrease in or future expiration of existing state taxes when that future decrease or expiration is not legally operative and binding yet, because such a bill does not change but maintains the existing computation bases currently in effect for the existing state taxes.”
The bill clearly “generates” revenue that two-thirds of the lawmakers in 2015 said would decrease as of July 1, 2019.
The state Constitution is not something to tamper with. Republicans should take it to court and make the Democrats abide by the rules, even if it means a special session would have to called. In fact, the GOP lawmakers should go directly to the state Supreme Court for an opinion that would binding, unlike the LCB opinion “that future decrease or expiration is not legally operative and binding yet …”
Asked nearly the same question in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the LCB said a two-thirds vote was necessary. So, governor, when do you trust your attorneys?
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Thomas Mitchell is a former newspaper editor who now writes conservative/libertarian columns for weekly papers in Nevada. You may email Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.