Irresponsible legislators hurt children

Anything you ever wanted to know about AB 46 can be found right here:

No one can seriously argue there isn’t a tremendous need to repair and rehabilitate many of the schools in Washoe County, where 60 percent are more than 30 years old. In recent years, massive budget cuts have slashed maintenance budgets while voters have rejected additional taxes to fix the problem now estimated to cost more than $500 million over the next 10 years.

Assembly Bill 46, sponsored by the Washoe County School District, would raise just $20 million a year over the biennium for maintenance and repairs, about 8 percent of what’s needed to adequately maintain our schools. The bill imposes a quarter cent increase in the sales tax and a slight increase in the property tax—by 5 cents per $100 assessed value—in Washoe County only.

In a rare bipartisan display of support for new taxes, the Washoe delegation strongly endorsed the idea, with the obvious and expected exception of Sen. Don Gustavson, a politician enamored of the “taxes are evil” philosophy long before the Tea Party made it fashionable in Republican circles. At the bill’s first hearing, however, a significant amendment was presented by Assemblymember David Bobzien, in recognition of the difficulty in achieving the constitutionally-mandated two-thirds vote threshold for any tax measure.

The amendment proposes a “work-around” to enable the school board instead of the legislature to actually raise the taxes. Enabling legislation only requires a majority vote from the legislature although the bill would still run the risk of a gubernatorial veto, which would then require a two-thirds vote to override. The plan could also face legal challenges due to the 1996 constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote on taxes, authored by none other than former Gov. Jim Gibbons.

The bill is supported by both labor and business as many jobs would be created with $20 million a year. Even the Reno Chamber of Commerce thinks the school crisis qualifies as dire and has suspended its anti-tax zealotry long enough to support the measure, perhaps understanding that it is impossible to attract quality new businesses when many of the crumbling schools are in older parts of town where high-end employees tend to migrate.

In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Chamber lobbyist Tray Abney brushed away any constitutional objections and provided this tortured view of the two-thirds requirement: “But be clear, this does not usurp the Constitution. The Constitution says, ’If the Legislature increases taxes, it has to be a two-thirds vote.’ The Legislature is not raising taxes. The school board, if they want to raise taxes, they can do so.”

Gov. Sandoval’s office, however, expressed deep concerns through spokesman Stewart Bybee: “The governor is concerned that the plan circumvents the public process. There is no ballot initiative, no two-thirds vote in the Legislature. … It also sets a brand new precedent for government entities that can tax the public. The bottom line is the school board is not a taxing authority.” Indeed, Clark County school officials are already salivating about the possibility of enacting taxes directly.

In another demonstration of need for additional educational spending versus lack of revenue, Democrats unveiled their plan last week calling for at least $310 million in additional funding for early childhood education, but this time with no funding plan offered. In the groundhog bubble of Carson City, the Democrats seem to hope public pressure will bring the Republicans to the bargaining table, but none reacted with any hint of support for the idea. Instead they floated the same anti-labor “reforms” they always want in exchange for any serious discussion of adequately funding education.

We’ve seen this movie before, several times in fact. As Ray Hagar of the Reno Gazette-Journal noted in his blog: “We’ve created a Legislature incapable of raising taxes.”