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September 3, 2015

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Damon Political Report

POLITICS:

Sandoval: Courts will ultimately decide whether counties get money back

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Brian Sandoval

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When the Nevada Supreme Court came down with its decision that the state can’t take local government money, Gov. Brian Sandoval almost immediately declared the decision put a $600 million hole in his proposed budget and reversed himself on a promise not to raise taxes.

But he’s not so quick to act when Clark and Washoe counties ask for $123.5 million of their money back.

During a taping of "To the Point" today, Sandoval said he’s asked Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto for an opinion on whether that ruling would require the state to refund local property tax dollars it grabbed in 2009 to help plug its budget hole.

He acknowledged, however, that the executive branch likely won’t make the final decision on what happens to the money.

“Ultimately, this is going to be another decision that will be decided by the courts to determine the applicability of that Clean Water case to some of these issues like this request made by Clark and Washoe,” he said in one of his first extended interviews since the end of the legislative session.

In May, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the state could not use $62 million from the Clean Water Coalition. That opinion seemed to extend to other local money grabs, prompting Sandoval to back extending the 2009 tax increase instead of taking more local money.

Asked how he could be initially certain the ruling had such a broad application and not immediately comply with the request from Clark and Washoe to refund the money, Sandoval said his interpretation “was not a final determination.”

“As I said before, I have to be a strong steward and leader of the state of Nevada,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a prudent approach to leave Nevada at risk for $600 million.”

In the interview, Sandoval also stuck by his decision not to call a special session to settle redistricting, saying lawmakers didn’t seem interested in arriving at a consensus.

He commended Judge James Todd Russell for seeking a non-political way to arrive at new district lines by tapping the voter registrars to act as special masters to redraw the lines.

But after the registrars balked, Sandoval suggested turning to the lawyer who drew the non-partisan districts for the Board of Regents. Scott Wasserman was a deputy director at the Legislative Counsel Bureau during redistricting in 2001 and is now chief executive officer and special counsel to the regents.

Sandoval said Wasserman took a “thoughtful approach” to the regents maps, which he believes complied with the Voting Rights Act.

“There are two issues here, the partisan ones and the legal issues to make sure they are in compliance with the Voters Rights Act,” Sandoval said. “Both of those were accomplished at the university level. I’m not saying it’s the answer. But it certainly shows a pathway to solving this issue.”

Sandoval's entire interview can be seen Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on KSNV Channel 3 in Las Vegas and KRNV Channel 4 in Reno.

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