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Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (Photo:@NVSOS)

Nevadans will vote on raising more taxes to fund K-12 education in 2022

Democratic activists withdrew two ballot initiatives, but Republican Cegavske moved them forward

By Megan Barth, October 13, 2021 8:30 am

The largest tax increase in Nevada state history, $1.1 billion to reform K-12 education, signed into law by Republican Governor Sandoval in 2015, apparently wasn’t enough to fund the needs for education. According to reports: ‘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.

Likewise, neither were the taxes from legalizing marijuana in 2016 enough.  At that time, voters were told that the taxes from the revenues generated from marijuana sales would benefit education.  In the first year, the revenue for marijuana sales tax of $69 million surpassed alcohol sales tax revenue.

Two years later, in his first year in office, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak mandated that 10% of marijuana sales tax revenue to be deposited into the state’s distributive school account (DSA).

In 2020, amid the pandemic and shutdown, Nevada saw a record level of tax revenue from marijuana sales. The state collected nearly $100 million in marijuana tax revenue.

To put these numbers in perspective, in 2018, the largest school district in Nevada, the Clark County School District (CCSD) budget was $2.4 billion. The district ranked 35th in the nation in education. In 2019, with a similar budget, the district ranked 50th. The budget for their 2021 school year is $2.6 billion. Yet, with this increase in spending, Nevada still ranks among the least educated in the nation at 44th in the nation.  In response to these abysmal rankings, CCSD and their union believe that more taxes, more spending, and implementing a new grading system will improve education outcomes.  The new grading system is a 50% pass/ fail, and behaviors, such as attendance, participation and late or missing assignments, will not influence a grade.

It is also worth noting that $200 million has been allocated for K-12 education from the state’s share of $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP).  This allocation must be approved by the legislature which convenes in a special session in November or will be heard in regular session in 2023.

Yet, faced with another ‘budget crisis’, the Clark County Education Association, took to the streets during a pandemic shutdown and surprisingly gathered enough signatures for two ballot initiatives. These ballot initiatives would raise taxes on gambling revenues and sales taxes: from 6.75 percent to 9.75 percent of all gaming revenue of more than $250,000 in one month in which those proceeds would go to the general fund; sales taxes would increase by 1.5 percent with a portion directly allotted to education, bringing the state’s baseline sales tax rate to 8.35 percent, making Nevada the highest base-line tax rate in the nation.  With counties have differing sales tax rates, that change would result in a 9.875 percent sales tax in Clark County, which would also be the highest local tax rate in the nation. 

However, in lieu of the tax increase on the state’s mining industry, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Sisolak, the union agreed to withdraw these petitions. The Attorney General, Aaron Ford,  supported this withdrawal, but Sec. of State Barbara Cegavske did not.

In her response, Cegavske cited the Nevada constitution as a basis for her rejection of their withdrawal:

In a letter sent to Attorney General Aaron Ford, Cegavske said a state law modified in the 2021 Legislature specifically to allow for the withdrawal of petitions does not comport with Article 19, Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution, which contains no reference to withdrawal.

“The Nevada Constitution requires the Secretary of State to follow a procedure once an initiative petition has obtained the required number of verified signatures,” Cegavske’s letter reads. “As such, a statute cannot interfere with that duty.”

“Although our office received a request to withdraw a petition which obtained the required number of signatures … the Secretary of State anticipates following her duty to act as outlined in the Nevada Constitution by placing the initiative petition on the ballot during the 2022 general election for adoption or rejection by the voters.”

Will the teachers union fight in court for less tax money to have these petitions removed? Likely not. These ballot initiatives will likely be left for Nevada voters to decide whether or not higher taxes and increased revenue translate to better education rankings and outcomes. If increasing budgets and revenues have resulted in lower rankings, perhaps Nevadan’s will think twice before voting to raise additional taxes.

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Megan Barth
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