Is teachers union ready to deal?


The tweet went out just before 8 p.m. Thursday. I had to read it twice.

“Tell #nvleg to Stop Playing Partisan Politics & find a bipartisan solution. Nevada demands more from legislators.”

For those unfamiliar with the language of Twitter, “#nvleg” is shorthand for the Nevada Legislature. The tweet was sent by the Clark County Education Association, the union that bargains for Clark County School District teachers.

The union, which has rallied for higher taxes and significantly higher education spending all year, appeared to be calling for some serious horse trading in the final days of the 2013 legislative session.

That’s what I read into the phrase “bipartisan solution,” anyway. You know, compromise.

Anyone who pays attention to policy, politics and public education in Nevada knows the formula by now: It requires a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate and Assembly to pass a tax increase. Democrats, who openly favor higher taxes, have a 27-15 majority in the Assembly, one vote shy of the two-thirds requirement. In the Senate, it’s even tighter — the Democratic majority is 11-10. Since November, Democratic leadership has known that it needs to pick up one Republican vote in the Assembly and three GOP votes in the Senate to pass any tax increase.

It’s also not a secret that those Republican votes have been there all session long — provided they were offered something in return. Construction defect reform. Pension reform. Prevailing wage reform. Collective bargaining reform. Education reform. The more new money Democrats want, the more GOP bills they’ll have to pass.

That’s a “bipartisan solution.” You know, compromise.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, has proposed an expansion of the live entertainment tax to eliminate exemptions and tax recreational activities such as gym memberships and golf. Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, has proposed increasing Nevada’s modified business tax on all payroll above $250,000. The rate would rise from 1.17 percent to 1.5 percent. For the mining industry, the tax rate would rise to 2 percent. Those tax increases are projected to boost state revenues by more than $300 million over the next biennium.

That money would come on top of the nearly $500 million in increased K-12 spending proposed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, which includes $50 million in new support for English Language Learner programs and $60 million to expand fully subsidized full-day kindergarten and reduce its class sizes.

Considering Democrats can’t pass these tax increases alone, you’d think they would have involved Republicans in drafting these plans. You’d also think they would have moved more GOP-sponsored legislation forward.

You would be wrong.

“Bipartisanship and compromises, by their very nature, have to be a two-way street,” Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, for Assembly Democrats, who have been in control for nearly three decades, compromise, to them is typically defined as Republicans being reasonable, and agreeing to higher taxes.

“As Minority Leader, I have been saying to anyone who would listen: ‘Republicans will consider greater revenues (taxes) when Democrats consider our reforms.’ Meaning; ‘You want us to raise more taxpayer dollars, show us that you are willing to ‘save’ those public dollars as well by agreeing to changes in prevailing wages, collective bargaining and PERS reforms.’

“So far, there has not been that ‘two-way discussion.’ Therefore, no two-way path to compromise.”

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, vented similar frustration when Denis introduced the payroll tax increase, which is a disincentive to job creation. It’s a nonstarter for the GOP. “I had great hopes things would be different this session,” he said on the Senate floor. “I thought we could buck the trend of Washington-style partisan politics and work together on reasonable solutions.”

On Monday, the Legislature will hold a hearing on Assembly Bill 162, which would significantly reduce class sizes in early grades and require piles of new money for passage. CCEA President Ruben Murillo is expected to testify — and have a lot of teachers behind him.

Can the union push Democrats to broker any kind of grand bargain that Republicans will support? And what kind of compromise would the union support? The CCEA emailed me a statement Friday in response to those questions:

“With just 17 days until the close of the legislative session, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) firmly believes that a limited opportunity exists for serious discussions to take place between both parties’ leadership to secure revenue to fund education in this budget. A few things have to be in place for this to occur:

“1) Parties have to put partisan politics aside and determine what is in the best interest of the state and public education,

“2) Only viable revenue options should be on the table, including taxing mining now, which has the greatest chance to garner two-third vote support in both houses and would provide the largest source of revenue this biennium, and

“3) The Governor, though careful to shepherd an economic recovery, has taken steps to fund education in this budget. Recognizing that a good education system is foundational to a long-term economic recovery, the Governor should be open to more options to fund education even further.

“CCEA welcomes and encourages a discussion of all parties to find such a solution. Students, teachers, and the community deserve better. If legislative leaders were truly to abandon partisan politics to find a long-term solution to adequately fund public education, teachers would be the first ones to join them at the table.”

Hmmm. It’s quite a change in tone from the 2003 tax debacle, when proponents of tax increases simply bullied and wore down a single GOP assemblyman to garner the last vote needed for new money. Would the union support pension reform? I’m skeptical.

The biggest challenge now is time. There aren’t 17 days left to pass tax increases. There are five. Because Sandoval will veto any tax increase, legislation doing so would have to get to his desk before Memorial Day to guarantee lawmakers enough time for an override vote. If the bill passes after the holiday, Sandoval can pull a pocket veto and sit on it until the session’s 120-day clock runs out.

Is there a deal to be had? You know, compromise?

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.