(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – A Nevada labor union leader said today his organization is “looking seriously” at launching a ballot initiative to put a tax hike to increase funding for education to the voters at the 2012 general election.
“We are looking seriously at this process because the legislative process is an impossible one,” said Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO. “With the two-thirds requirement in the constitution, what in effect that does – it has the minority control the majority wishes. You cannot solve the problem at the Legislature alone without some help from the people.”
Nevada has a two-thirds vote requirement in the Legislature to raise taxes or fees.
Thompson said Nevada needs more tax revenue to properly fund education, which in turn would help in the diversification of the state economy and lead to the creation of jobs.
In an interview with Jim Rogers today on KRNV Channel 4 in Reno on the “Inside Nevada” segment of the noon news, Thompson cited a September poll by the Retail Association of Nevada showing public support for raising taxes if the money is spent on education.
“And I think the solution is, do it by the people, that way the Legislature doesn’t have as much wiggle room, and put the money toward education,” he said.
The survey of Nevada voters by the Retail Association of Nevada actually showed that 57 percent would prefer to raise taxes rather than see further cuts in spending to education and health care. Sixty-four percent also said higher taxes would lead to job losses, however.
Other polls conducted in Nevada over the years have often shown voter support for specific types of tax increases, such as those imposed on gaming or on alcohol and cigarettes. Voters have typically not favored increases in the sales tax or property tax.
Asked to comment on a potential tax ballot initiative, Nevada state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the issue properly belongs in the Legislature.
“I don’t think there are very many people in the state that believe that tax policy should be through ballot initiative,” he said. “We can talk about it now, we should be talking about it now, between now and next February (2013). But it is the job of the Legislature to make those decisions.”
The Nevada Legislature will convene again in 2013.
Ballot measures are not always well thought out and often cause more problems than they solve, Roberson said.
“We all want to have more revenue and more funding for education,” he said. “Education and job creation are the two biggest issues facing the state. This state is certainly at a crossroads. We have got to reform education but we all know we need to fund education better.”
Roberson said he and his Senate Republican colleagues would be happy to sit down with Thompson, as well as with legislative Democrats, to discuss and work toward an acceptable solution regarding tax policy and tax reform.
“But I don’t think a ballot initiative to raise taxes is the answer,” he said.
Rogers, the owner of KRNV and several other television stations in the West, said during the interview he would support such an initiative as well.
In a telephone interview with the Nevada News Bureau, Thompson said details of a proposed voter initiative have not been finalized. A petition could take the form either of an amendment to the state constitution or a less restrictive change to state law to increase taxes, he said. No decision has been on which taxes would be proposed for hikes, Thompson said.
He acknowledged that getting a measure qualified for the ballot is difficult given the likely legal challenges and the signature collection effort itself. A voter initiative would need 72,352 valid signatures collected by June 19 to have it placed on the November 2012 general election ballot.
The AFL-CIO has had success in getting measures on the ballot before, including a constitutional amendment raising Nevada’s minimum wage.
“People are fed up,” Thompson said. “We have the lowest spending on education in the nation and we have the highest unemployment with no solution to these problems in sight, and we have a total dependency on a single industry for paying our bills.”