Teachers’ union loses battle on business tax
CARSON CITY – Nevada teachers regrouped Wednesday, after losing a state Supreme Court battle to force legislators to consider a business profits tax to raise about $270 million a year for education.
Elaine Lancaster, president of the Nevada State Education Association which pushed the tax, said the NSEA still wants the Legislature and Gov. Kenny Guinn ”to do what’s right for the school children of Nevada.”
”There will be no safe haven for those who fail to take positive action in this session,” Lancaster warned at a news conference.
”Those who want to hide behind more studies or wait until after the next election should take care to understand that Nevadans expect leadership on behalf of our children.”
She quoted from part of the high court’s ruling Tuesday that said nothing in the opinion precludes the lawmakers ”from considering or adopting the same or similar legislation as it may deem appropriate.”
Lancaster said the court ruling angered many teachers and other school staffers and parents, and the NSEA will ”organize these Nevadans, and we will work with them to inform voters of legislators’ positions on this critical issue.”
Lancaster and Ken Lange, the NSEA’s executive director, said everyone knows that Nevada students lack adequate school materials, teachers’ class loads are high and their salaries are low, and the state’s per-pupil expenditures are below the national average.
Lange added that ”politicians don’t see the light until they feel the heat. I think that it’s getting hotter.”
Lawmakers’ reaction to the court ruling were mixed.
Senate Taxation Chairman Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, agreed that education needs more funding, especially for special education and for teachers’ raises.
But McGinness also said he doubts that taxes will be raised this session because it’s too late and Gov. Kenny Guinn has vowed to reject any tax hike proposals.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said the teachers’ tax plan was ill-conceived, adding, ”It was just too much of a grab on the part of the teachers’ union.”
”Next session we should look, not necessarily at new taxes, but at reallocation of taxes, Raggio added. ”We’ve got a lot of growth in this state and a lot of growth in tax revenue, but it all goes to local government.”
But Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said the teachers’ proposal remains an issue for this session. He added the tax plan ”was driving discussion – and I don’t think the discussion is going to go away. Things haven’t changed substantially.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with opponents of the tax plan who maintained the Nevada Constitution prohibits an initiative that would appropriate funds but not provide an adequate tax source.
While the proposed tax would raise new revenue, the initiative also said half of the state’s total revenues should be earmarked for education. Justices said the new tax wouldn’t be enough to meet the 50 percent requirement.
The NSEA circulated petitions last year to force the tax issue. Without the court ruling, a failure by legislators to consider the proposal by March 16 would have put the proposal on the 2002 ballot.
The NSEA, the main union for Nevada teachers, needed only 44,009 valid signatures on its initiative petition seeking the tax plan – and submitted far more than that. The secretary of state’s office found that 63,795 signatures were valid.
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