(Steve Sebelius) – Gov. Jim Gibbons said today that the 2003 lawsuit filed by then-Attorney General Brian Sandoval against the Legislature puts Sandoval’s anti-tax statements in serious doubt. Sandoval is challenging Gibbons in the Republican primary.
Back in 2003, after the Legislature had failed repeatedly to pass a budget for the state’s schools and a tax plan to cover it, Sandoval filed a lawsuit at the direction of then-Gov. Kenny Guinn. The lawsuit — known as Guinn v. Legislature — sought to compel the Legislature to fulfill its constitutional duty to pass a balanced budget, including asking the state Supreme Court to direct the Legislature to raise taxes.
“The attorney general is the mater of the litigation,” Gibbons said today. “The attorney general structures the litigation. Mr. Sandoval used his office to tell the Legislature they must raise taxes. It doesn’t comport with his modern-day interpretation [of the lawsuit].”
Sandoval has said during this campaign he will not raise taxes if elected governor. Moreover, he said that in 2003, he did not favor taxes, and he points to testimony he gave before the Assembly in which he said it was up to the Legislature as to how it funded the budget. But the lawsuit and a subsequent memorandum of points and authorities in support of it — filed personally by Sandoval on midnight of the first day of the 2004 fiscal year — clearly seeks to compel the Legislature to raise taxes.
“I’ve never changed my position,” Gibbons said. “I’m not a Brian-come-lately to the anti-tax position.”
Indeed, the governor is correct. The record shows then-Congressman Gibbons delivered a speech to the Legislature denouncing Guinn’s call to raise taxes, in addition to several news releases denouncing the lawsuit and its result. The issue was personal to Gibbons, as well, since he was the author of a constitutional amendment that required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature to raise taxes. It was that two-thirds provision that prevented the Legislature from being able to pass a budget and tax plan to fund the schools.
“It [the lawsuit] was a direct attack on the will of the people and it was a direct attack on the constitution,” Gibbons said. “Here was Brian saying, ‘The people didn’t know what they were doing.’”
Arguments before the Supreme Court at the time included one that held the public didn’t consider the possibility of an impasse that would prevent state schools from opening on time due to a lack of funding when they passed the two-thirds provision.
The Supreme Court eventually issued its most controversial ruling ever, holding in Guinn v. Legislature that the constitutional requirement to fund schools and the two-thirds requirement to raise taxes were incompatible, and therefore the two-thirds requirement could be set aside for the purposes of the 2003 tax debate. The ruling sparked outrage across the political spectrum, including from Gibbons. And, it resulted in a federal lawsuit that attempted to overturn the state high court ruling. Sandoval successfully defended Guinn v. Legislature in federal court, arguing the issue was a state, not a federal, one.
The impasse was finally resolved when then-Assemblyman John Marvel changed his vote on taxes to yes, becoming the swing vote that allowed the Legislature to reach the constitutionally required two-thirds. The Supreme Court later overturned Guinn v. Legislature in an unrelated case.
Although Sandoval has said he was simply fulfilling his duty as attorney general in order to force the Legislature to f0llow the Nevada constitution, Gibbons said today the incident raises questions as to whether Sandoval may buckle in some future tax fight.
“It raises the question whether he will equivocate on his [anti-tax] statement,” Gibbons said.
(Mr. Sebelius is editor of Las Vegas CityLife)