Nevada budget breakdown: marijuana tax fails; ESA funding eliminated

Published: Jun. 1, 2017 at 7:50 PM PDT
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Talks to fund the Governor's Education Savings Accounts have come to a halt after the Nevada Senate voted twice not to increase the tax on recreational marijuana.

Senate Bill 487 calls for a 10-percent increase on recreational sales. The more-than $60 million in expected revenue from the tax increase would have been put toward the Distributive School Account, the main source for education funding in the state.

But senators voted 12-9 along party lines Thursday against the tax increase; two votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed. Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford called for a second vote, saying not passing the increase would create a hole in the budget. The vote, again, was 12-9.

Some Republicans were expected to vote in favor of the tax increase in exchange for some Democratic support for $60 million in ESA funding. Republican Senator Ben Kieckhefer told KOLO 8 News Now the deal they had with the Democrats fell through. The Senate went into recess following the vote on SB 487. Kieckhefer disputes reports that the nine Republicans walked out of the Senate Chambers following the vote.

Meanwhile the Democrats convened in their absence and voted 12-0 to approve an amended version of Senate Bill 544 which would fund the Distributive School Account. The amendment moves the $60 million earmarked for ESA funding to close the gap left by the failed marijuana tax.

Following the vote, Democratic leadership issued a statement saying, "Our Democratic majorities in both chambers have said loud and clear from day one that we believe in keeping public dollars in public schools. We continue to have deep concerns about how diverting public money to subsidize wealthy families would weaken our education system and threaten our children’s future."

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson continue their statement, saying Republicans rejected a proposal made by Democratic Assemblyman Justin Watkins, which offered a compromise of $30 million funded by businesses. The compromise would have "instituted an income-based sliding scale to ensure money went to students with the highest needs, prioritized at-risk and lower-performing kids, and set reasonable eligibility and accountability standards." It would also have required private schools to comply with Nevada’s anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws.

The Assembly Republican Leadership responded, saying, “It is disappointing to find out that Democratic leadership in the Senate has not been negotiating in good faith. From the beginning, we had hoped that our colleagues across the aisle would put aside their partisan, political, national left-wing, special interest-inspired agenda and get to work for Nevada families. Today has showed us definitively that this is not and was not ever their intention. It is clear that rather than negotiating with duly elected leaders, we were instead negotiating with political operatives focused on currying favor with special interest groups....We had hoped for better. We had hoped that Democratic leadership wanted to do better on behalf of Nevadans – it turns out that their campaign talking points beat out schoolchildren today.”