Nevada Education Enhancement Act (2008)

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The Education Enhancement Act did not make the November 4, 2008 ballot in the state of Nevada. Voters would have been able to decide whether or not to reallocate hotel room tax dollars away from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, redirecting the hotel room tax money to fund education.

This initiative was a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.

The same sponsor was offering a similar amendment for the November 2008 ballot. That measure—Funding Nevada's Priorities Act, would have also redirected hotel room tax money from the convention authority but would have had the money go to fund transportation projects and public safety, in addition to education.

Under the plan, the convention authority would have received its current allocation of about $200 million per year, plus annual increases to cover inflation. Any funds more than that amount would have gone to the state's distributive school fund under one petition, or would have paid for public safety improvements under the other petition.[1]

Room tax rates averaged 9% in Clark County. According to the convention authority, room taxes collected in fiscal year 2007 were more than $397.7 million. Of that total, the convention authority used 47 percent of the total, or $191.9 million, while 53 percent, or $205.8 million, went into total community support. The convention authority hprojected room taxes to reach $456.3 million in fiscal 2009 and $571.8 million by 2012.[2]

Supporters

Former State Treasurer Bob Seale was the main proponent of the measure. Seale argued that his initiatives would have paid for needed improvements without raising taxes. At the time, he said he didn't believe the initiatives would keep the convention authority from promoting Las Vegas. "They will still have adequate dollars to accomplish their goals. I believe (the initiatives) are good public policy."[1]

Robert Uithoven, a Las Vegas Sands political consultant, said the company was part of a coalition supporting Seale's initiatives. "Our role is providing some assistance, advocating for its passage and assisting with the coalition-building behind it," he said. "We have a very strong team of supporters backing it."[2]

This measure as well as a similar measure, Funding Nevada's Priorities Act, was reportedly being bankrolled by Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson.[3]

During the 2007 legislative session, Las Vegas Sands executives, with the backing of Gov. Jim Gibbons, lobbied to have room taxes taken away from the convention authority and be used to fund transportation improvements. A compromise was reached in which the convention authority agreed to give up $20 million a year over the next 30 years to fund road improvements to Interstate 15 through the resort corridor.

Opponents

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority opposed the initiative. The group filed a lawsuit March 21, 2008, to stop the ballot question and one other initiative also sponsored by Seale, from coming to the ballot. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, chairman of the LVCVA board, said he supported the lawsuit, which claimed the initiatives violated the state's law single-subject rule.[2]

Representatives from most of the major casino corporations voiced opposition to the plan, saying they didn't want to divert money used to market Las Vegas at a time when massive expansion was taking place on the Strip and a national economic downturn was curtailing the tourism activities of Americans.

Scott Nielson, executive vice-president of Station Casinos and a member of the LVCVA board, claimed, "My position and the position of our company is we can not support any type of initiative that takes so much away from the convention authority so that it would not be able to accomplish its mission. We believe in the mission of the LVCVA."[2]

Chuck Bowling, MGM Mirage executive vice-president and a member of the convention authority's board, said his company had a long-standing opposition to taking money away from tourism support. "Our model is so successful that other communities are beginning to look at it. Certainly, this is not the time to throw out our plan."[1]

Result

The state Supreme Court ruled that the measure would not be put on the ballot due to failure to fully comply with the law regulating petition circulation.[4][5][6][7]

Proponents filed signatures on May 19, 2008; however, after opponents filed a legal challenge to the validity of the signatures, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that there were not sufficient valid signatures filed to qualify the measure for the ballot. In response to an appeal of the decision, Miller affirmed the decision, leaving proponents with the option of filing a lawsuit to challenge the ruling. Such a suit was filed.[8][9][10]

On July 2, 2008, a Carson district judge ruled that this measure was disqualified due to problems with affidavits signed by the signature gatherers. A spokesman for Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who bankrolled the petition, said a decision had not yet been made on whether to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.[11][12][13]

Lawyer Scott Scherer, who represented sponsors Martin and Seale, filed an appeal, noting that tens of thousands of people had signed the petitions and he thought it was important to appeal to the Supreme Court so their views could have been considered.[14]

The state Supreme Court agreed July 17, 2008, to hold an Aug. 20, 2008, hearing on the appeal of the lower court ruling that blocked the three measures backed by Las Vegas Sands Corp. owner Sheldon Adelson from the November ballot.[14]

At that hearing, Scott Scherer, attorney for the petitioners, argued that Secretary of State Ross Miller overstepped his authority in rejecting the plans for failing to meet petition-verification requirements imposed by the 2007 Legislature.[15]

Wayne Howle, the state's solicitor general, argued that the petitioners exhibited a "lack of due diligence" in meeting the standards for ballot qualification.[15]

At issue was a 2007 law requiring circulators to sign statements that they personally circulated the petitions, counted the signatures, and observed the signing of the petitions, and that each signer had a chance to read the full text of the petition. But the initiative sponsors relied on outdated requirements for circulators found on the Secretary of State's web site.[14]

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada asked permission July 23, 2008, to file a "friend of the court" brief in the appeal, arguing that the state Supreme Court should have let voters have their say on the initiative petitions.[16]

Lee Rowland, an attorney representing the ACLU of Nevada, said the source or content of the petitions was irrelevant and that the important issue was the process and access to the ballot by citizens.[16]

In this case, tens of thousands of signatures were being discounted because of procedural issues and "fundamental fairness was lacking here," Rowland said.[16]

The state Supreme Court ruled Sept. 4, 2008, that petition advocates failed to "substantially comply" with the law and that their attempt to cure flaws in the petitions was "insufficient." The court also rejected arguments that the new legal requirements were unconstitutional.[4]

Earlier lawsuits

Carson City district Judge Bill Maddox ruled April 18, 2008, against the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that had challenged the measure. Plaintiffs had argued that the measure violated the single-subject rule and that the description did not adequately explain the proposal to voters, but Judge Maddox ruled that the petitions were within legal guidelines.[3]

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and every municipality in Clark County had filed the suit March 21, 2008, to stop the ballot question—as well as a second one, Funding Nevada's Priorities Act, also being sponsored by Seale.[2] Judge Maddox ruled against the plaintiffs in both cases.[3]

Las Vegas attorney Todd Bice, representing the plaintiffs, said Judge Maddox's decision would be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.[3]

The lawsuit also claimed Seale was acting on behalf of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., whose executives had a long-running feud with the convention authority and its operation of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Seale stated that he wanted to become involved in the petition drive after hearing the idea proposed in a speech by then-Las Vegas Sands President Bill Weidner.

Robert Uithoven, a political consultant for the Sands, said the company was part of a coalition supporting the initiatives and that the lawsuit came as no surprise. "I believe that the LVCVA thought they were being clever by having a bunch of local governments sign off as plaintiffs in this lawsuit, but really, it only serves to make our point."

He added, "Of course government is going to sue to resist the people's right to petition and reform government. Government by its nature doesn't reform itself; it takes the people to accomplish reform. We believe taxpayers in Nevada want an alternative to having their taxes raised."[2]

See also

External links

References