The decision by a judge in Carson City reverses Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s plan to keep on the ballot the measures to increase state sales and casino taxes to fund education. Cegavske, a Republican, oversees elections in the state.
The union sought to pull the measures after a deal with the Legislature increased education funding using mining tax revenues. A vote on the initiatives had the potential to affect midterm elections by turning out voters concerned about education and taxes.
Secretary of State’s office spokesperson Jennifer Russell declined to comment Friday about District Court Judge James Wilson’s ruling on Wednesday. The lawsuit was filed in December by political action committees backed by the Clark County Education Association.
Wilson decided the secretary of state has no discretion to refuse to allow sponsors of an initiative to kill it.
The same committees sponsored initiatives in 2020 that aimed to increase funding for education in a state that has long ranked near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending and achievement.
Nevada public schools have too many students per classroom and too few teachers and support staff, according to a study received last May by the Nevada Commission on School Funding. It projected that Nevada needed about $800 million to meet the national average of students to teachers.
But a mining tax hike that the Legislature passed that same month, after years of debate, projects adding $85 million to school spending statewide, depending on the value of silver and gold.
Most of the revenue is earmarked for the Las Vegas-based Clark County School District, which has more than 300,000 students and is the state’s largest and historically most cash-strapped district.
In negotiations to win legislative support for that deal, Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita agreed to withdraw both initiatives, and lawmakers changed state law to allow the union to do so, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The funding landscape changed even more when Nevada gained $1.58 billion in federal pandemic aid earmarked for education — a massive windfall compared with the roughly $3.3 billion in state and local funds the state spends annually on K-12 education. Clark County schools will receive $1.26 billion.
The two measures sought by the teachers union were projected to have generated about $2.8 billion over two years.
One sought voter approval to increase taxes on the state’s largest and most profitable casinos. The other sought to increase part of the state’s sales tax by 1.5%.
Cegavske argued the state constitution prevented her from withdrawing the measures.
But Wilson wrote that nothing in the constitution overrode the Legislature’s ability “to enact a provision permitting proponents … from deciding to withdraw their initiative measures.”
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