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Teachers unions split on push to block A’s ballpark funding

Updated June 30, 2023 - 9:13 pm

The state teachers union is mounting an effort to stop public dollars from going toward the construction of a new stadium for the Oakland Athletics on the Strip.

But it won’t have support from the state’s largest teachers union, the Clark County Education Association, the executive director of that union said Friday.

“We feel that the matter has been settled,” said CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita, noting that the funding bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Joe Lombardo.

The Nevada State Education Association announced Thursday that it had formed a political action committee, “Schools Over Stadiums,” to oppose public funding for the proposed A’s stadium. Lawmakers approved a bill in June to provide $380 million in public funding for the proposed A’s ballpark off of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

Even if the Clark County teachers union were to get involved in a similar effort, “we wouldn’t follow the lead of that organization,” Vellardita said, referring to NSEA. “We don’t think it has a viable path for victory.”

He said he thinks the state association is “grandstanding,” also alleging it “doesn’t have any money” and has lost a large number of members over the last five years.

The Clark County Education Association — a teachers union that represents about 18,000 licensed professionals — is the collective bargaining agent for teachers and other licensed professionals in the district. CCEA broke away from NSEA and its national parent organization in 2018, which resulted in multiple lawsuits.

NSEA wasn’t successful during the legislative session, Vellardita said, adding he can’t see how it will be successful this time around either.

But NSEA spokesperson Alexander Marks told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday that the PAC is confident in its approach.

Pursuing litigation will be the first step, he said, and lawyers for the committee are researching “various grounds for a lawsuit,” Marks said.

The group is also committed to giving Nevadans the opportunity to vote on whether to repeal the law that provides funding for the A’s stadium, he added.

“At this point, everything is on the table,” Marks said.

A’s officials on Friday stood by their comments from the previous day in which they said they were aware of the PAC, and of the union’s opposition testimony to Senate Bill 1.

How can the initiatives get before voters?

For the NSEA’s initiative to get into voters’ hands, there are steps the organizers must follow. The initiatives cannot be filed earlier than Aug. 1 the year before the election, Cecilia Heston, the secretary of state’s spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Because Senate Bill 1 was enacted by the Legislature, an initiative that would try to nullify it would require a statewide petition to repeal, she said.

The number of signatures required for statewide initiatives in 2022 was 140,777 signatures from registered Nevada voters, including at least 35,195 from each of the four petition districts. The secretary of state’s website will be updated with the latest numbers for how many signatures are needed next week, Heston said.

‘Unfortunate battle’

State and local officials have hesitated to comment on the efforts to block the A’s deal.

Lombardo, who called the A’s bill an “incredible opportunity” when he signed it in June, declined to comment through a spokeswoman.

“It’s going to end up being an interesting, and unfortunate battle,” Clark County Commission Chair Jim Gibson told the Review-Journal on Friday.

Gibson maintained that, in his view, there is only upside to the creation of a new tax district on the Strip in terms of increased tourism and economic opportunities.

The board of commissioners hasn’t yet cast significant votes related to the proposed stadium, and he noted that he only speaks as one official in a seven-member body. Commissioner Tick Segerblom declined to comment, while fellow commissioners Justin Jones, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, William McCurdy, Michael Naft and Ross Miller did not respond to requests for comment.

Gibson repeated what he told the Legislature during the special session: that the financing structure was “sound” and “justifiable” and that the debt service through bonding was manageable.

He said he didn’t understand the union’s intention, since the county’s cash infusion would be minimal and wouldn’t “take a single dime away from teachers or students.”

On the contrary, he said, “the funding gives us the opportunity to generate additional revenues to be put toward teachers, students and other things.”

Blocking public funding for the A’s stadium will require a lot of effort from the groups involved, and a plethora of signatures, Gibson said.

“If people don’t want baseball, that’s fine. … We’ll see if more want it than not,” he said.

Opposition during the special session

During the special session, Senate Bill 1 received an outpouring of opposition from locals who said the money could be better spent funding the state’s education system.

Several unions and labor groups, including the Culinary Union, Southern Nevada Building Trades Union, IBEW Local 357 and the Nevada Contractors Association, threw their support behind the proposal, drawing attention to the number of jobs and tourists it would bring.

Marks, from NSEA, said there was a definite frustration while watching the special session, and educators from across the state were contacting NSEA.

NSEA pushed for a 20 percent salary increase for educators and was asking for about $300 million to accomplish that, Marks said, and was told no. Then, the Legislature committed a similar amount of money to the A’s, he added.

When a special session is convened solely to pass a giveaway to the A’s, “that certainly rubs folks the wrong way,” he said.

“I think that was offensive to a lot of our folks,” Marks said — not just educators, but community members who consistently see Nevada ranking poorly for education.

Marks told the Review-Journal on Thursday that the union also has spoken out at the Legislature against previous tax abatements for Tesla to expand operations in Northern Nevada.

Another initiative

The Nevada State Education Association isn’t the only group planning to file a ballot initiative and bring the decision to voters. A separate group called We Want a Voice filed its political action committee paperwork with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office Friday afternoon.

On Monday the PAC plans to file a ballot initiative that would require Clark County to get voter approval before issuing bonds for a sports arena or stadium, said John Johnson, president and lead organizer of the political action committee. The initiative, if passed, would apply not only to the A’s ballpark, but any future sports endeavor in the county, Johnson said.

We Want a Voice will work in conjunction with NSEA, Johnson said.

“What we’re looking at trying to do is making it so that these people, if they do get these bonds and stuff, the voters can have the last say, and if we’re not happy, then it’s not going to pass,” Johnson said.

The group expects to start gathering signatures by Aug. 6 in order to turn in the signatures in February 2024 so that it could be on the ballot for the 2024 Primary Election in June.

Johnson added that on Monday he will reach out to Clark County for more specifics about a countywide — rather than a statewide — ballot initiative process to see if there are different rules.

For We Want a Voice’s initiative, because it concerns only Clark County, it will need 15 percent or more of the number of voters who voted in the preceding general election to sign it, according to state law.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter. Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter. Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.

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