Property tax cap dies on the vine

CARSON CITY — In what is expected to be the death blow to the effort to put a measure before voters to cap property tax increases, the Nevada Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request to disqualify the judge who ruled the measure ineligible for the ballot.

The high court also rejected a request for a stay of senior Judge Charles McGee’s order from earlier this month that disqualified the California-style Proposition 13 measure from the Nevada ballot.

Secretary of State Ross Miller said there may be other legal avenues for the proponents of the measure to pursue, but that it is too late for this election cycle.

"This is the end," he said. "It’s over as far as this election is concerned."

Absentee ballots have been printed and will be mailed out by Thursday, Miller said.

"We applaud the Supreme Court for again quickly resolving an election-related issue and allowing us to finalize the ballot," he said.

Although he initially approved the tax cap measure for the ballot back in August, Miller said the decision by McGee was the right one and the Supreme Court was right to reject the motions filed by attorney Joel Hansen on behalf of former Reno Assemblywoman Sharron Angle.

The requirements for affidavits that had to be submitted with the signatures to get the measure on the ballot clearly were not followed, he said.

The failure of the measure means that none of the constitutional amendments proposed by citizens this year will make it to the voters. Some were withdrawn and others, like Angle’s measure, were successfully challenged in court by opponents.

Angle could not be reached for comment. It was her third attempt to get the constitutional amendment on the Nevada ballot.

McGee ruled from the bench after a two-day hearing in Virginia City, saying some of the affidavits required with the petition signatures were flawed and so invalidated the tax cap measure. McGee said there were "exponentially more petitions" containing deficiencies than necessary to disqualify the measure from the ballot.

Angle then asked the Supreme Court to disqualify McGee and order a new hearing based on the fact that McGee’s wife was an employee with the Washoe County School District, which he did not disclose. The challenge to the Angle petition was brought by the Nevada State Education Association.

The Supreme Court noted that McGee’s wife was no longer working for the district other than as a part-time consultant and said the motion lacked merit.

Hansen also sought a stay of the order keeping the measure off the ballot while an appeal was considered. Among the issues Hansen wanted to raise included the suggestion that the affidavit requirements were unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court, noting that it recently upheld the constitutionality of the affidavit requirements in recent successful challenges to other proposed ballot measures, said the argument was unlikely to be successful on appeal.

The court also agreed with McGee that the affidavits as submitted with the signatures in Clark County did not appear to meet the state constitutional requirements and said Angle was unlikely to be victorious in this challenge either.

Lynn Warne, president of the teachers association, praised the ruling.

"It just confirms what we’ve said all along," she said. "There were some serious deficiencies in their signature gathering.

Hansen argued that any mistakes were minor and the petitioners substantially complied with the affidavit requirements, which is the standard set by the Nevada Supreme Court for initiative petitions in a decision issued last week on a different petition challenge. The question should remain on the ballot, he said.

Angle’s proposed constitutional amendment wanted to limit property tax increases to 2 percent per year for all property.

The Legislature enacted its own caps in 2005, limiting increases on owner-occupied homes to 3 percent and other property to 8 percent. The legislative caps will remain in effect.

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