By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Political action committees backed by Nevada’s largest teachers’ union are suing the secretary of state to remove two of their own tax measures from the 2022 ballot.
“The Secretary of State has no discretion under law to refuse to permit Petitioners to withdraw their respective initiative petitions, and therefore Petitioners are entitled to writs of mandamus directing her to do so,” the union’s attorneys argue in the lawsuit filed this week.
The lawsuit is the latest development in a protracted battle over taxes and education funding in Nevada that has ensnared both major political parties as well as the state’s most powerful industries and interest groups. It will likely be closely watched in Nevada due to its potential to sway next year’s midterm elections and turn out voters concerned about education and taxes.
The political action committees — whose attorney also represents Democrats in the Nevada Legislature — argue a new state law allows petitioners to withdraw ballot initiatives if the election day is 90 or more days away and cite a July opinion by Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican who oversees elections in the state, wrote in a September letter to Ford that the state constitution requires she put the initiatives on the 2022 ballot.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday asks the court to prevent the Secretary of State from putting the initiatives on the ballot.
The 18,000-member Clark County Education Association spent much of 2020 gathering the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to qualify them, arguing Nevada would be able to better fund education with the additional general fund revenue the taxes would provide. The first initiative would effectively raise sales taxes in Las Vegas to nearly 9.9%, and the second would increase the gambling tax rate from 6.75% to 9.75%.
The union submitted them after lawmakers cut K-12 education funding in 2020 amid the pandemic and a budget shortfall. Both measures received an icy reception from the Democrats who control the Statehouse and Las Vegas’ powerful resort industry, which worries tax hikes scare off tourists.
State law generally requires lawmakers introduce petition-based proposals for consideration within 40 days of signatures being filed, otherwise the measures automatically head to the ballot in the next election. Lawmakers did not vote on them and later in the legislative session revised state law to allow petitioners to withdraw initiatives.
During the 2021 legislative session, John Vellardita, the Las Vegas-based union’s executive director, said the purpose of the initiatives was to “start a conversation” among lawmakers. The hanging threat helped force Nevada’s major industries to come to the table in 2021 and negotiate a mining tax increase, which lawmakers eventually passed on the final day of the 2021 legislative session.
With more than $85 million of the new revenue earmarked for education, John Vellardita, the Las Vegas-based union’s executive director, promised to remove the initiatives from the 2022 ballot. He told The Associated Press in June that his strategic use of them contributed to the passage of the mining tax and a boost in education funding.
In a statement on Wednesday, Vellardita said the initiatives were intended to raise new revenue for education and haven’t been supported by the union since lawmakers increased education funding in May.
The secretary of state’s office said it could not comment on pending litigation.
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.