Judge rejects petition to repeal $1.4 billion state tax hike

CARSON CITY — A district judge on Thursday threw out a proposed referendum petition seeking to ask voters next year to repeal a $1.4 billion tax increase approved by the 2015 Legislature to help fund Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

The referendum petition was filed in August by the We Decide Coalition, headed by anti-tax activist Chuck Muth.

Muth had recently sought to have a legal challenge to his petition moved from state court to U.S. District Court based on a number of alleged constitutional issues.

Attorneys challenging the petition argued in a Carson City court hearing there was no federal issue that would permit the dispute to move to federal court. A group called The Coalition for Nevada’s Future has challenged the adequacy of Muth’s petition.

Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell agreed that he still retained jurisdiction over the dispute and heard arguments on the validty of the petition at the brief hearing.

Muth did not attend the hearing, nor did he have legal representation present.

Russell found that the petition violated a requirement in state law that such petitions confine themselves to a single subject. He also found that the “description of effect” required as part of the petition to explain to potential signers what the proposal would do was inadequate.

The petition proposes to ask voters to repeal a collection of taxes, including a new commerce tax and a $1-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, approved by lawmakers in June to balance the current state budget. Much of the revenue was allocated to Sandoval’s ambitious public education funding and reform plans.

Muth filed a second petition with the secretary of state’s office on Sept. 22, again seeking to repeal the tax package but using a different description of effect.

But the second petition will likely face the same fate as the first based on Russell’s finding that it violates the single-subject rule.

The Coalition for Nevada’s Future has until Oct. 13 to file a challenge to the second petition.

Muth can still appeal Russell’s decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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