Ballot question rules targeted

CARSON CITY — Former state Controller Steve Martin filed an initiative petition Wednesday that would require a two-thirds affirmative vote by the public on ballot questions to increase taxes.

Martin noted that the state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature on tax bills and the same requirement should apply when citizens vote on tax increases. Now, only a simple majority vote is needed when citizens decide ballot initiatives that would raise taxes.

“Why shouldn’t there be two-thirds requirement on initiatives as well?” he asked.

Martin, a Republican, served as state controller for six months in 2006 following the death of Controller Kathy Augustine. He was defeated in the general election by Kim Wallin.

By raising the tax passage standard, the Las Vegas accountant said backers would need to secure more bipartisan support for their proposals.

“They need to sell it to the people,” Martin said. “That is the key.”

Democrats have a slight registration advantage now, but Martin said typically the breakdown has been nearly 50-50.

Martin acknowledged that he has support from the Las Vegas Sands Corp. on his two-thirds plan but plans to seek donations from other businesses as well.

Sands President Bill Weidner expressed his support for the higher tax increase requirement in a recent Reno television appearance, while Gov. Jim Gibbons said Wednesday in another television interview that he backs the two-thirds plan.

Gibbons and his wife, Dawn, circulated the petitions that led to the overwhelming public vote on the constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds support in the Legislature on tax increases.

Earlier this year, the Sands and the Nevada Resort Association successfully challenged in court a petition by the Nevada State Education Association, or NSEA, that would have let voters decide whether to increase the gaming tax by 3 percentage points.

A Review-Journal poll showed more than two-thirds of respondents favored the tax increase. But another poll found most residents opposed Clark County lawyer Kermitt Waters’ petitions to triple the 6.75 percent gaming tax.

A judge also threw out Waters’ petitions. The NSEA has filed a new petition seeking a public vote on a plan to increase the gaming tax to 9.75 percent. The Nevada Resort Association also is challenging this second NSEA petition.

Martin said it is clear to him that people are resorting to circulating petitions to increase taxes rather than securing legislative support.

Like the NSEA, Martin must secure 58,836 valid signatures by May 20 to qualify his petition for the November ballot.

It must be approved then, and again in 2010, before the two-thirds tax vote requirement would be placed in the constitution. Martin’s higher standard would not go into effect until 2011.

Consequently, if the teachers association won public support on its plan to increase the gaming tax this year and in 2010, it would need only a simple majority vote.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel or (775) 687-3901.

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