Supreme Court Won't Hear Nevada Tax Case

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a Nevada Supreme Court ruling that said the state Legislature didn't need a two-thirds majority to pass new taxes.

Justices made no comment in turning down the appeal sought by a group of Republican legislators.

The legislators wanted the court to overturn a state high court ruling that helped to break an impasse over taxes in last year's Legislature. An increase, needed to balance the state's budget, required a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and Assembly, and had repeatedly failed by one vote in the Assembly.

When the new fiscal year began without a budget, Gov. Kenny Guinn sued, and the state Supreme Court ruled that a tax increase could be passed to fund education without the two-thirds vote required in the Nevada Constitution.

In the 6-1 ruling, the state court said funding for the state's schools must take precedence over the two-thirds vote requirement.

The Legislature eventually passed a tax bill with a two-thirds vote. But the Nevada court ruling remained under attack by Republicans and other groups that opposed the tax increase.

An attorney for the Republican lawmakers, John Eastman, had argued the ruling violated the U.S. Constitution and nullified the votes of residents who voted in 1996 to add the two-thirds provision to the Nevada Constitution.

Eastman also had contended the ruling should be thrown out because it could be used during future legislative sessions to eliminate the need for a two-thirds majority vote on taxes.

Friend-of-the-court briefs had been filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of a group of GOP legislators from California, the Initiative and Referendum Institute and from national and Nevada taxpayers groups.

Lawyers for the Legislature asked the Supreme Court to refuse to review the issue, arguing there was no actual controversy since the $833 million tax bill was passed by a two-thirds majority.

"We're glad to hear the Supreme Court has expressed its opinion and we will move on from here," Gov. Guinn said in a statement following Monday's decision.

"We knew this was a long shot because other states hadn't weighed in on it yet," said Assemblywoman Sharron Angle of Reno, one of the Republican lawmakers who appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the GOP legislators from California had joined in, Angle said there also was interest from Arizona, Arkansas, Washington, Kentucky and other states.

Angle also said opponents of the Nevada court ruling remain hopeful because the case also was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which is scheduled to hear arguments April 15.

The U.S. Supreme Court case is Angle, Sharron E. v. Guinn, Gov. of NV, 03-1037.