Some Nevada Democrats aren’t satisfied with having a Democratic governor and large legislative majorities. They also want to ignore the state constitution to make it easier to raise taxes.
In the mid-1990s, Nevadans overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment mandating that tax increases receive two-thirds approval from each legislative body. Alternatively, a simple majority of legislators can seek voter approval for a tax hike.
“An affirmative vote of not fewer than two-thirds of the members elected to each House is necessary to pass a bill or joint resolution which creates, generates or increases any public revenue in any form,” Nevada’s constitution states.
That’s all-encompassing and unambiguous, which is a problem for Gov. Steve Sisolak.
His budget, despite his claims to the contrary, contains a tax increase. Under current law, the modified business tax rate will decrease in July. But Sisolak wants to maintain the current rate in order to help fund his record-setting spending spree. While Democrats have a supermajority in the Assembly, they are one vote short of two-thirds control in the Senate.
That leaves Democrats two constitutional choices. Either cut a deal with Senate Republicans to get a vote or increase spending by 10 percent instead of 11 percent.
Democrat leaders, however, are considering a third option: ignoring the constitution.
Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson said recently he doesn’t believe extending a tax rate requires a two-thirds vote. Sisolak has hinted that he agrees. Their argument is that because the rate stays the same, it’s “not a new tax,” in the words of Atkinson.
But that line of reasoning falls apart once you look at what the constitution actually says.
To extend a tax rate, the Legislature must pass a bill. That bill will increase revenues, which is exactly why Sisolak wants the tax rate extended. The constitution requires a bill that “increases any public revenues in any form” to pass with a two-thirds vote in each house or receive voter approval.