Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004 | 9:33 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit to stop the proposed referendum to repeal the $833.5 million tax increase, saying it "is a potential disaster waiting to happen."
The suit, submitted in District Court in Carson City, asks for a writ or a preliminary injunction to stop the voter verification process now under way to determine if there are 51,337 valid signatures to force an election.
Janine Hansen, an official in the group that circulated the petition, called the suit "pretty pathetic."
"They are desperate to stop us," she said. "They represent big corporations and big gaming and not the average taxpayers in Nevada."
The lawsuit adds to the legal jungle that has surrounded initiative petitions and the referendum during this election. A federal lawsuit in Las Vegas over an initiative to legalize marijuana has forced a recount of signatures on four petitions, and an appeal is pending before the Nevada Supreme Court on the validity of the minimum wage and stop frivolous lawsuits initiatives.
Secretary of State Dean Heller must have answers on which initiatives will be allowed on the ballot by Sept. 1 to allow the printing of the absentee and sample ballots for the November election.
The 43-page Taxpayer Association suit, filed by former state senator and a Reno attorney Thomas "Spike" Wilson, names Heller and Nevadans for Sound Government as the defendants. It seeks a quick hearing to resolve the issue.
The Taxpayers Association issued a statement saying Nevada seems "to have succumbed to the California syndrome of government by petition."
It said the petition process is a valuable tool when used properly, but "when it is used in such a way that the petition may bring about unintended consequences and is a potential disaster waiting to happen, the citizens of Nevada are shortchanged. The citizens of Nevada deserve better."
Last week Heller announced that a sampling showed the Axe The Tax referendum had only 49,207 valid signatures, short of the 51,337 needed. George Harris, head of Nevadans For Sound Government, which circulated the petition, threatened to sue. Heller then ordered a full recount of all the more than 60,000 names turned in to see how many were registered voters.
That recount is under way. But the taxpayer suit seeks to halt that new count.
Wilson, in his lawsuit, said the referendum "is unconstitutional on its face and constitutes a plain and palpable violation of the Nevada Constitution and is therefore void and should be barred from the ballot."
The lawsuit says the referendum needed to include the entire text of the bill it seeks to repeal -- more than 156 pages -- on every petition that voters signed.
Hansen said her brother, Las Vegas attorney Joel Hansen, had researched that law and found other petitions had merely cited the section in the law to be repealed.
Wilson, in his suit, said the referendum fails to disclose that if it is successful, the state budget will be out of balance, which is a violation of the Nevada Constitution.
If voters vote to repeal the taxes, the Legislature will have to immediately convene to make cuts or impose new taxes to carry government through the rest of this fiscal year. If the voters reject the referendum, then the law stays in effect but it can only be changed by a vote of the people. The Legislature would have no power to change the law.
Wilson said the voters are in a "Catch-22" situation with "untenable choices." He said the petition "completely fails to disclose this consequence and misleads the voters into believing the petition is simply an act to repeal" the taxes.