Guinn Calls Special Session on Taxes

Governor Kenny Guinn
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Gov. Kenny Guinn ordered Nevada lawmakers into special session at 4 p.m. Tuesday to complete the job they left unfinished when their regular session ended - passing a record tax increase to balance the state's $5 billion budget.

Guinn, calling the lawmakers' third special session in two years, said he's open to a variety of tax proposals as long as they're broad-based.

The dollar amount needed remains the same - nearly $870 million. That's because the legislators already sent Guinn separate bills authorizing most state spending for the coming two fiscal years. And he's not sending those spending bills back for any downward adjustments.

The biggest spending measure left unresolved when legislators hit their 1 a.m. Tuesday deadline for bill-passing in their regular session dealt with education funding - a spending area that's tough to cut by any substantial amount.

The Republican governor said the session can only run until 5 p.m. Friday. He also said there are as many as 15 bills on other subjects that didn't get approved on time during the regular session, and he could add those to the special session agenda.

But Guinn is using a carrot-stick approach. He won't send those other bills over to the lawmakers until he gets the tax package he needs to balance his budget.

The governor said he's not trying to pressure the legislators into sending him a tax package by controlling their special session agenda, adding, "I think it's just so they don't get enthralled with a lot of bills."

While Guinn appeared to have the upper hand in controlling the special session, Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said, "I think this has to be a process of compromise."

But Hettrick, who had opposed the big tax hikes favored by Guinn, conceded Guinn's strategy "puts us in the position of, 'You have to agree with this and there are no other choices,' and that's a tough option."

The centerpiece of Guinn's proposal had been a gross receipts tax, and the governor said he's "not giving up on anything." But he added he's letting lawmakers decide, picking from several options - including some he had opposed earlier.

Legislators spent the regular 120-day session's final hours in closed-door negotiations on taxes. The leaders' compromise included 15 new and increased taxes. But they couldn't get the necessary two-thirds majority for passage of any tax bill in either the Republican-controlled Senate or Democrat-dominated Assembly.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio said the needed votes should now be easier to find, adding, "I think there's a realization on the part of at least two-thirds that we have to accommodate what we're trying to do."

But Raggio, R-Reno, who had joined in the effort to pass the biggest tax increase in Nevada history, said, "Any form of gross receipts tax is dead on arrival."

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas said Guinn should have called an immediate special session early Tuesday, with no break for the legislators.

"I think you just need to get it done," she said, adding, "You start back at ground zero."

Guinn didn't blame any individual legislators for the failure to pass a tax package during the regular session.

However, Greg Bortolin, his press secretary, said, "The governor expected them to get their work done in 120 days."

"I wouldn't call it a train wreck, but it's definitely a derailment," Bortolin said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)