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VICTOR JOECKS: Democrats prioritize political theater over hiking education funding

Updated May 28, 2019 - 9:15 pm

Scoring political points is more important to legislative Democrats than funding the programs they believe will improve education.

On Monday, Democrats introduced Senate Bill 551, which would provide around $100 million in funding for school safety initiatives, pre-K programs and additional Zoom and Victory schools. Last week, Senate Republicans identified around $250 million in available funds and proposed spending the extra money on education programs.

But there’s no political advantage when both parties support similar objectives. So in SB551, Democrats have combined this funding with extending the current modified business tax rate. The law requires the rate to decrease at the end of the fiscal year.

The Nevada Constitution requires two-thirds approval in both houses for any bill “which creates, generates or increases any public revenue in any form.” Democrats have a supermajority in the Assembly but are one vote shy in the Senate. Instead of negotiating with Republicans, they forced the Legislative Counsel Bureau to deem that extending a tax rate doesn’t require a two-thirds vote. “Dubious” is a generous way to describe that interpretation. The only reason Democrats want to extend the current tax rate is for the extra money. If a bill “increases any public revenue in any form” it requires a two-thirds vote.

The Legislature “is creating a constitutional crisis,” Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, tweeted about Democrat efforts to extend the sunset without a two-thirds vote. It is “a clear violation of the Tax Restraint Initiative.”

This makes a vote to extend the modified business tax rate about more than raising taxes. It’s a de facto endorsement of the LCB’s garbage legal opinion. Senate Republicans have so far been unified in their opposition.

Senate Democrats are gleeful about the double bind they believe they’ve created. Every senator “has a choice to make: fund these essential programs that are critical to the success and safety of our schools or choose to give corporations a tax break,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, said in a statement.

But Cannizzaro’s argument reflects poorly on Democrats, herself included. If these programs are essential to student success, why didn’t Gov. Steve Sisolak fund them in his initial budget? If the funding is needed for safety, why did Senate Democrats reduce the amount Sisolak proposed for school safety a few days ago?

Making Cannizzaro’s claims even more absurd is that Republicans have already identified unappropriated money that could be spent on these initiatives. Even the political calculation is off. Expect the public to put the blame on those in charge — Democrats — if Republicans win a court challenge on the bill’s constitutionality.

Whether these programs would actually increase student achievement is doubtful, but don’t expect much discussion on that topic. Near continuous education spending increases over the past 60 years haven’t worked, so why stop now?

SB551 isn’t about helping children. It’s about politics. Democrats are using students as props in an attempt to score political points.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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