Lawsuit challenges tax cut petition

CARSON CITY — A group led by state AFL-CIO leader Danny Thompson filed a lawsuit Tuesday that challenges the constitutionality of former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle’s latest petition to limit property taxes.

Thompson, representing the union-backed Nevadans for Nevada political action committee, said Angle’s Proposition 13-style petition violates the “uniform and equal” tax provision in the state constitution, because it would lead to neighbors with similar homes being sent widely differing property tax bills. Angle began circulating the petition this week.

“Once you sell your home, whoever buys it is charged property taxes at full-market value,” he said. “You could live next door to someone paying four times the taxes as you for the same kind of house.”

Owners of businesses, particularly casinos, will be placed at a disadvantage if they must pay much higher property taxes than their competitors, he said.

Last year, Thompson’s group successfully challenged Las Vegas Republican state Sen. Bob Beers’ Tax and Spending Control in Nevada (TASC) petition that would have limited spending by state and local government. The Supreme Court threw the petition off the ballot.

Critics at the time complained Thompson was motivated by the benefits union members receive from government spending.

He denied Tuesday that his motivation in challenging Angle’s petition had anything to do with preserving the revenue local governments and school districts receive from property taxes.

“Our motivation for doing it is they would put people in a position where they will pay more in taxes in some cases. I don’t even know if revenue to local government would be reduced if her petition passed.”

Angle did not return calls for comment. In earlier interviews, she has stated that passage of her petition would not necessarily reduce local government and school revenues from property taxes in part because of the concerns raised by Thompson in his lawsuit that home buyers would pay more in property taxes than the previous owners of the same property. Most people live only a few years in the same home, Angle noted.

She failed in 2004 and 2006 to gather enough signatures to place similar petitions on the ballot.

In an interview Monday, Angle said: “I have never promised your property taxes will drop” if the petition is approved by voters.

If her petition becomes part of the constitution, it could not be changed at the whim of the Legislature, she said.

Angle said legislators can change tax laws at any time, but a constitutional amendment cannot be changed without a vote of the people.

Her petition would amend the state constitution and limit property tax increases on all types of property to 2 percent a year. It is similar to one approved in 1978 by California voters as Proposition 13.

A law passed by the Legislature in 2005 limits property tax increases on owner-occupied residences to 3 percent a year and also provides for an 8 percent annual limit for increases on commercial and other types of property.

But one provision in Angle’s petition could cost her signatures, and Thompson capitalized on it in his lawsuit.

That is the fact that people who buy previously owned homes and property would fare better under the current tax limit law than under the tax cap in Angle’s petition.

Under Angle’s petition, the 2 percent annual tax increase limit applies to the home or business only as long as it remains in the hands of the current owner. Once the home or business is sold, the property would be taxed at the full-market value, which is usually much higher than the current value of the property as determined by county assessors.

But under the 2005 law that is in effect, the lower value of the home remains with the property, regardless of whether there is a new owner.

Thompson filed his lawsuit in District Court in Carson City, although Angle said she had been told by the secretary of state’s office that the deadline for challenging the petition expired at 5 p.m. Monday.

She filed the petition on Sept. 4 with the secretary of state and was told opponents had 15 working days, excluding holidays and weekends, to file litigation challenging language in the petition.

Mat Griffin, the deputy secretary of state for elections, said he consulted with the attorney general’s office Tuesday on whether Thompson missed the deadline for challenging the petition.

Griffin said Senate Bill 23, the new law governing the circulation of petitions, does not go into effect until Oct. 1.

Consequently, Thompson did not have to meet a Monday deadline to challenge Angle’s petition.

Thompson also contended the District Court should throw out Angle’s petition because it is misleading. As written, he said, it appears people who sign the petition would repeal personal income, inheritance and other taxes. But income and inheritance taxes already are prohibited in Nevada, he said.

Angle has said Legislative Counsel Bureau lawyers told her to include the sections on personal income, inheritance and other taxes. She claimed a close reading of the petition shows those taxes are not changed by the petition.

Nonetheless, Thompson said, that section confuses people about the real intent of her petition.

“It misleads people into believing they are signing up for something already in the law.”

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