Question WC 6: "Constituent Guidance" on School Funding

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Read more stories about 2008 ballot questions

WC #6
Do you support the imposition of an additional hotel and motel room tax of not more than 3 percent to be used in the first 2 years after imposition to avoid large cuts in the funding of education and other state programs and to be used thereafter to increase the funding K-12 Education, specifically to improve student achievement and for salaries of non-administrative educational personnel?

With the state's education system facing serious budget cuts, the teachers' association has spent much of the past year pushing for additional revenue. Those efforts have resulted in a pair of petition drives...and an advisory question on the Washoe County ballot.

Question WC 6 proposes to add 3 percent to the room taxes paid by tourists saying in the state's hotels, but caps the tax at a maximum of 13 percent. The money would go to shore up education budgets during the economic downturn and after that would be earmarked for teacher's salaries and student achievement. The room tax is already 13 percent or higher in downtown Reno and Sparks, 12 percent outside the downtown area, so the proposed increase would have little effect here. Most of the revenue raised by such an increase would come from Las Vegas, where the rate is commonly 9 percent.

Lynne Warne of the Nevada State Education Association points out that the increases would still leave Nevada room taxes at a competitive level compared with other locations. And she says three of the state's major gaming companies are supporting the proposal.

Carol Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association still thinks it's a bad idea, since it would gather revenue primarily in just Washoe and Clark Counties, but would distribute the funds statewide. "It's budgeting by ballot," she says. Vilardo also says it amounts to earmarking funds from a sector not directly connected with the benefit. "I don't know what the room tax has to do with teachers' salaries."

Of course, WC 6 and a similar question on the Clark and Lander county ballots won't by themselves raise any revenue for our schools. They will only send a message to the legislature and the governor...and that's what they were intended to do. "It will provide political guidance for the lawmakers from their constituents."

In other words, when lawmakers meet for the 2009 session they won't have to guess what the folks back home feel about raising room taxes to raise money for schools. And the issue apparently will be on their agenda. In fact, they may have little choice.

Earlier this week, petitions containing more than 100 thousand signatures were turned in to county clerks across the state endorsing the room tax increase.

WC 6 is advisory. This referendum petition isn't. The lawmakers will have the first 40 days of the session to enact the increase...or it automatically goes on the 2010 ballot. If that happens, voters won't be sending any messages. They'll be deciding the issue themselves.