Nevada Supreme Court hears arguments on case over taxes and fees in the Legislature

Nevada Legislature
Nevada Legislature(Gurajpal Sangha)
Published: May. 3, 2021 at 3:20 PM PDT
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CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) - The Nevada Supreme Court heard arguments Monday challenging whether the Legislature’s majority party can renew expiring fees or taxes without a two-thirds majority.

Voters passed a Constitutional Amendment requiring all new fees and taxes to be approved by the supermajority. The intent was to require lawmakers to build a consensus.

In 2019, Senate Democrats Introduced SB 542 to extend the DMV’s $1 technology fee and SB551 to extend certain Clark County Taxes. Neither bill received the two-thirds majority, so Senate leadership determined they were exempt from the requirement and only needed a simple majority to pass.

Before the Supreme Court Justices, the defendant’s attorneys argued that ultimately, the bills did not increase state revenue. “You have to look at the existing operative state of the law to determine the actual effect of the bill, from one fiscal year to the next fiscal year. In this case, there was no change in that existing stream of revenue, therefore, the bills did not create, generate or increase any public revenue in any form,” said attorney Kevin Powers from the Legislative Counsel Bureau legal Division.

Justice Elissa Cadish questioned if all expiring tax and fee increases would then be treated the same way. “So if you get a two-thirds vote and say, hey, we just need this for the next two years and it’ll go away. And two-thirds of the people say, okay, we’ll suck it up for the next two years and pay this tax. Then, in perpetuity, you can keep it in place with just a majority? Is that right?” Craig Newby, arguing for the Attorney General’s Office responded, “That is the position the defendants are taking in this case.”

The Plaintiffs argued that the Amendment to the Nevada Constitution was clear and unambiguous. Karen Peterson also argued that if the Legislative Majority is able to cancel a fee or tax expiration, it would cause minority lawmakers to rethink whether they should go along with any temporary increases. “If you adopt the defendant’s interpretation and their position in this case, we do think the practical effects of that are going to hinder the ability of legislative members to enact legislation to get the two-thirds vote requirement.”

There is no word on when the Nevada Supreme Court will issue their ruling on the case.

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