Nevada legislature approves state's largest-ever tax hike
The Nevada legislature approved the state's largest-ever tax hike that will raise up to $1.1 billion in new and extended taxes to initiate far-reaching reforms in Nevada's struggling K-12 education system.
In a 30 to 10 vote Sunday, the Assembly approved all three major facets of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval's tax plan, including his "Nevada Revenue Plan," which is a hefty hike on cigarette taxes and the continuation of a group of formerly temporary business taxes called the "sunsets."
On Monday, the Nevada Senate passed the tax increase 18 to 3, ensuring the bill would now go to Sandoval for signature.
Sandoval, Nevada's popular Republican governor elected by a large margin to a second term in November, made the tax increase the centerpiece of his legislative agenda this year. The state has struggled to fund education for decades. Democrats, who had held the majority in the Legislature for two sessions before Republicans took both houses this year, had tried and failed to pass a new business tax in 2011 and 2013.
In an effort to win support from more conservative Republicans, Sandoval linked his call for a tax increase to sweeping education reforms, including what has been described as the most robust parents' choice measure—which funnels money to families with children in private school—in the country.
Passage of the bill required a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, which was easily achieved after Sandoval's staff put on a "full-court-press" lobbying effort over the past few days that drew the ire of anti-tax conservative leader Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks.
The 10 no votes all came from Republicans in the Assembly and included Northern Nevadans Jill Dickman and Hansen from Sparks, Jim Wheeler from Minden, John Ellison of Elko and Robin Titus of Lyon County.
The Senate only needed to concur with the Assembly for the bill to pass the Legislature and move to the governor's desk for him to sign it into law. The Assembly was considered the biggest hurdle in passing the governor's tax package.
Those who voted for the bill saw it as a major victory for education. The measure will help bring forth many expanded education programs, including one to help English language learners and another to ensure Nevada students read by third grade.
Another will put state-funded full-day kindergarten into all of Nevada elementary schools. Sandoval's $7.3 billion general fund budget also calls for the establishment of a medical school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
"Starting with the governor, Republican legislators paid an awful lot of attention to the education issue this session and an overwhelming majority of us came to the conclusion that we got to spend more money in trying to move the education needle in the right direction," said Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno.
Opponents of the bill lost two allies before the vote was taken. The husband of Assemblywoman Vicki Dooling, R-Henderson, died Sunday morning and she traveled back to Southern Nevada.
Assemblyman John Moore, R-Las Vegas and a former Army Ranger, was taken to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Reno.
Monday is the final day of the regular session of the 2015 Legislature. If lawmakers don't finish the state's business my midnight Monday, they could be forced into an expensive special session that would cost about $60,000 to start and $25,000 for each day thereafter.