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Sisolak signs controversial tax bill that GOP vowed to fight

Updated June 12, 2019 - 6:15 pm

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak signed off Wednesday on extending a business payroll tax to fund teacher raises and other school programs, a move expected to trigger legal action from Republicans and others critical of how the measure passed the Legislature on its final day.

The extension of the modified business tax at its current rate in Senate Bill 551 was one of several education-related initiatives the governor signed without ceremony Wednesday. The bill directs $98 million in revenue gained from keeping the tax over the next two years, primarily to fund school safety and teacher raises.

The bill also eliminates a never-implemented voucher-like program for private schools enacted by Republicans in 2015.

Republicans opposed the move on grounds that extending the tax amounted to a tax increase that would require a two-thirds majority vote. The state constitution says any bill that creates, generates or increases any revenue in any form must get a two-thirds vote in both houses. But the Legislative Counsel Bureau wrote a memo this year that says extending a tax at the same level isn’t an increase, and thus could be passed with a simple majority vote. The vote in the Senate on SB551 was 13-8, just shy of the two-thirds.

Amid legislative maneuvering on the last day of session, Democrats moved the bill first through the Senate, then in the Assembly, where they hold the requisite supermajority.

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said after passage that Republicans would sue if the governor signed the measure. He confirmed that Wednesday, writing in a text message: “Legal options are being determined and a suit will occur.”

Sisolak also signed bills Wednesday that direct all revenue from the state’s 10 percent tax on retail marijuana sales to the main school budget; give counties the option to enact a quarter-cent sales tax to fund education and social service-related initiatives, such as early childhood education and homelessness reduction; and increase the annual reimbursement teachers get for out-of-pocket school supply purchases from roughly $100 to $180 per teacher.

A fifth measure related to school safety strengthens school and district-level emergency response plans, forms a statewide committee on school safety to make recommendations to the Legislature, and makes changes to the “SafeVoice” program for anonymous reporting of threatening or dangerous activity at a school.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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