Attorney general won’t seek clarification of budget ruling

CARSON CITY — Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto refused GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s request to seek clarification from the state Supreme Court on its controversial Thursday decision, which seriously impacts his proposed state budget.

Dale Erquiaga, Sandoval’s chief adviser, said Saturday that Masto found “no grounds exist” for seeking a clarification of the ruling that found it unconstitutional for the Legislature and then Gov. Jim Gibbons to take $62 million last year from the Clean Water Coalition, made up to local governments in Clark County.

The decision calls into question the legality of Sandoval’s proposal to take $657 million from local government entities to fill gaps in his $6.1 billion spending plan.

Sandoval, a former federal judge and state attorney general, respects the office of the attorney general but is “profoundly disappointed” in her decision, Erquiaga said. The governor is committed to find a legislative solution to handle the shortfall, he added.

Erquiaga made no mention in a statement of whether Sandoval was looking for other ways to seek a clarification. That likely would be difficult since the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn June 6 and a new budget must be in place by the end of the day June 30.

During a Friday news conference, Erquiaga announced that Sandoval had asked Masto to seek a clarification. In at least five instances in his 2011-13 state budget plan, Sandoval proposes taking funds from some, but not all, local governments and school districts. The court, in a unanimous decision, found that it is unconstitutional for the state to take funds from part of the state when laws are supposed to be uniform and equal throughout Nevada.

The attorney general’s refusal means Sandoval now must follow through on his Thursday announcement to vote to reauthorize at least some of the $679 million in taxes that expire June 30.

However, on Saturday, Keith Munro, the assistant attorney general, said he still was researching whether to file the request for a clarification. While Munro is assigned to the governor’s office, Erquiaga said he did not attend the Friday night meeting where Masto told Sandoval she would not seek a clarification or a rehearing in the Clean Water Coalition case.

“These events underscore the reasons the governor has lost confidence in the attorney general’s office,” Erquiaga said.

Sandoval’s staff released a letter signed by Masto late Friday telling the governor there is “no provision” in the court rules “to seek a ‘clarification’ of a Supreme Court decision.”

In her letter to the governor, Masto also said that there does not appear to be grounds for the governor and Legislature to seek a rehearing of the Clean Water Coalition opinion.

In a rehearing, the court only would review whether it “overlooked or misapprehended a material fact” or failed to consider a statue, regulation of procedural rule, she noted.

“The briefing and oral argument in this matter were extensive and exhaustive,” Masto wrote. “It does not appear the court overlooked or misapprehended a matter of fact or a material question of law.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3801.

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