GOP senators reject legal opinion on school proposal

CARSON CITY — Six state Senate Republican senators have rejected the conclusion in a secretary of state’s legal opinion that their plan to offer a mining tax increase to voters to compete with a business margins tax on the 2014 ballot is not permissible under the state constitution.

“History has demonstrated that separation of powers is fundamental to our system of government under the Nevada constitution,” said the statement issued late Tuesday from Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, and five of his colleagues. “Any attempt by the executive branch to usurp legislative authority in areas specifically reserved to the Legislature — including the various means by which legislation may be approved or rejected — is inappropriate and constitutionally suspect.”

The Republicans said the legislative counsel, who is their legal adviser, issued an opinion that they did not have to formally vote to reject the business margins tax plan, but by their inaction they were rejecting the tax increase plan sought by the Nevada State Education Association in a petition. Through their inaction, the teachers tax plan automatically will be placed before voters next year.

“We remain highly confident in the legal opinion of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, which has analyzed legislative and constitutional arguments for decades for both Republican and Democratic legislators,” the Republican statement continued. “LCB’s opinion that the Legislature is not required to take specific legislative action to reject the margins tax initiative is carefully researched, well reasoned and persuasive.”

At this point, Senate Republicans have not yet released their alternative tax plan. Passing an alternative tax plan will be difficult because it is opposed by Assembly Republicans, many Democrats and Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Sandoval asked the secretary of state to rule on whether the Republicans can propose an alternative tax question.

Scott Giles, deputy secretary of state for elections, found that because legislators last month did not vote to reject the 2 percent business margins tax, the Legislature now cannot draw up an alternative tax plan for voters to consider in the 2014 election.

Giles ruled that Article 19 of the Nevada Constitution required the Legislature to “reject” the teachers tax plan before lawmakers could place an alternative tax proposal before voters.

Which opinion prevails will not be known unless Republicans can pass an alternative tax plan before the Legislature adjourns. Then the question could be challenged in court by Secretary of State Ross Miller before it goes on the ballot.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.