Assembly Votes to Fund Education and State Budget

Nevada Legislature 2003
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The legislative logjam continued on Sunday after the Assembly passed one bill and amended another aimed at funding the school budget and raising about $820 million in taxes.

The 26-14 vote came after a group of holdout Republicans failed to reach a breakthrough with Democrats on the size of the tax increase.

But that plan seemed to be jettisoned when lawmakers returned to work later Sunday to continue wrangling, and perhaps cement a new deal that could get a two-thirds vote in both houses.

The Senate convened briefly Sunday evening, but was unable to accomplish anything other than a status report.

"There have been ongoing discussions all day long," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno. "I am cautiously optimistic that we are very near an agreement. It is essential that we have the legislators here tomorrow. Hopefully we can reach an accord. I'm not going to make promises we can't keep."

Impatient Assembly Democrats bided their time after forging ahead earlier in the day to break the impasse, which included dumping the two-thirds vote.

The Democrats said the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote on tax increases was obviated because they reduced taxes. Democrats said the bill and the amended one lowered the new tax increases from $873 million to $820 million.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said just before the bill passed that it was time to act.

"We can do it now and try to reverse some of the damage done to our schools," she said. "Let's get it done."

Buckley's brief speech failed to persuade the Republicans to vote for the bill, which included a modified business tax and a 3 percent bank franchise fee.

Some Republicans have said the fees will drive business out of Nevada. Business lobbyists also have put heavy pressure on the Republicans to resist the fees. Democrats accuse the Republicans of "shielding" the banks.

Republicans say they'd support a tax increase of about $700 million, which would have guaranteed a two-thirds majority vote in the Assembly.

The man keeping the Republican holdouts together, Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, vowed not to support the bill. Hettrick said he knew he was taking a chance in not voting to fund the $1.6 billion education budget.

"As much as I'd like to vote for this bill ... I remain uncomfortable," he told the Assembly as people heckled him. "I will take the risk that I have to take to do what I believe is right in terms of this."

Hettrick's caucus did not relent, and the vote passed. Two Assembly members were absent.

Assembly Democrats said the tactics they used to outmaneuver the Republicans were above board.

"This wasn't a sneak play," said Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson. "This was a procedural play."

Hettrick didn't disagree.

"It's using the process to its limit," Hettrick said. "That's not against any rules or laws. We anticipated it some time ago."

Some Democrats said the Republicans had no choice but to vote against the bill after stubbornly refusing to compromise for months.

"We had them on the run," said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

Legislators in both parties and both houses have refused to budge over the taxes needed to balance the nearly $5 billion two-year budget they passed in their regular session.

Two special sessions since the regular session adjourned June 2 have proved useless.

The Republicans still hope to overturn the Nevada Supreme Court's ruling that said funding education was more important than the two-thirds vote required by the state constitution.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied a preliminary injunction late Friday that sought to block lawmakers from passing a tax plan without a two-thirds vote.

But the court has agreed to expedite the case for briefing.

Hettrick has said he'll appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.