Forget Washington. If you’re looking for an impending constitutional crisis, head to Carson City.
Nevada’s constitution requires that tax increases pass the Legislature with a two-thirds majority in both houses. That provision — approved by voters in 1994 and 1996 — has frequently frustrated big-government politicians. They’ve either had to do the hard work of securing broad support for new taxes or abandon their plans.
Gov. Steve Sisolak wants a third option — ignoring the constitution. On Thursday, the Review-Journal obtained copy of a nonbinding legal opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau saying he could do just that.
Sisolak’s budget relies on receiving around $100 million by extending the current rate of the Modified Business Tax, which is scheduled to decline slightly. Democrats have a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, but are one vote short of two-thirds in the Senate. Sisolak and legislative Democrats sought the LCB’s opinion, because they didn’t want to have to negotiate with Republicans.
While LCB claims to be nonpartisan, it serves as the majority party’s lawyers. If Democratic leaders insist on reaching a certain conclusion, LCB’s lawyers will come up with whatever twisted argument they can to justify it.
Which is exactly what LCB did in this opinion. Nevada’s constitution requires a two-thirds vote “to pass a bill or joint resolution which creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form.” Legislators can a pass a tax increase with a simple majority only by sending it out for a vote of the people.
To determine whether a bill “increases any public revenue in any form,” you don’t need a legal opinion, just a calculator. Without the proposed bill, look at what public revenues will be. If the proposed bill passes, see if public revenue will be higher than before. If yes, that’s an increase of public revenue.
Raising revenue is the entire reason Sisolak wants this bill to start with. He needs the nearly $100 million to balance his budget.