Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008 | 2:05 a.m.
Voters in the general election would be well advised to take notice of the bottom of their ballots, which will include an advisory question on public education and four statewide ballot initiatives.
Clark County Advisory Question No. 5, though nonbinding, will give voters the opportunity to voice support for our financially strapped public schools.
The stark reality is that the Clark County School District is hurting because of severe statewide budget cuts. Nevada ranks 49th in per-pupil expenditures for kindergarten through 12th grade public education, and the prospects for improvement in the near future aren’t rosy.
Voters will be able to support an increase of as much as 3 percent in the room taxes levied at hotels and motels — as long as the total tax does not exceed 13 percent — to help pay for teacher salaries and to improve student achievement. That could include programs such as full-day kindergarten and after-school tutoring.
Supporters of the measure, including the Nevada State Education Association, Wynn Resorts, Harrah’s Entertainment and Station Casinos, realize this is only a stopgap solution. But because Gov. Jim Gibbons and the Nevada Legislature haven’t agreed on a way to fully fund education, options are limited.
Advocates of the measure note that a maximum 3 percent room tax increase would leave Las Vegas competitive with other convention cities.
Those advocates also intend to turn in petitions by the end of this month for a bill draft that would be sent to the Legislature next year. If lawmakers approve the room tax increase, it could go into effect as early as July 1. The intent would be for the money to go into the state’s general fund for the first two years to defray some of the budget cuts to education. Then the money would go into a separate account to be used only for teacher salaries and student achievement programs.
In nearly all cases, we believe the Legislature and the governor should make decisions on funding issues involving key areas such as education. They’re elected to make the tough decisions in a deliberative process. But Carson City’s failure to adequately fund education leaves the voters, at this time, no alternative other than passing an initiative.
The school districts cannot afford to put up with this dire budget squeeze any longer. That is why a strong show of support for the advisory measure is so important. The Sun recommends yes on Question 5.
The statewide ballot initiatives are:
• Question No. 1 — This would amend the Nevada Constitution so people would be eligible to vote if they have lived in both Nevada and in a particular district or county for 30 days. This would eliminate the current constitutional provision, which has not been enforced, that requires an individual to live in the state at least six months before becoming eligible to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that 30 days is reasonable to fulfill residency requirements, and a separate Nevada state law complies with the court’s position on that issue. The Sun recommends yes on Question 1.
• Question No. 2 — This would amend the Nevada Constitution so that property taken by government for public use under eminent domain must be valued at its “highest and best use,” with the seller entitled to the “highest price the property would bring on the open market.”
This initiative, which passed in 2006, must be approved again this election to become law. We agree that government should take only what it needs and only for specific public purposes. Eminent domain cases should also be held to high standards and owners of the private property in question should get fair value.
But this measure is unwieldy, unworkable and costly. In but one example, it would require government to offer the land back to the seller at the original price if it is unused after five years, which would cost taxpayers money by starting the eminent domain process from scratch. The Sun recommends no on Question 2.
• Question No. 3 — This would amend the Nevada Constitution to require the Legislature, when considering a specific exemption from sales and use taxes or property taxes, to determine whether the social or economic benefits outweigh the costs.
But these are considerations legislators should be making anyway whenever dealing with tax exemptions or other legislation that potentially affects state and local government budgets. There is no need to clutter the Constitution with this measure. The Sun recommends no on Question 3.
• Question No. 4 — This would amend Nevada’s Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955 so the Legislature could amend or repeal any portion of that law without going to a vote of the people for the purpose of conforming with federal laws and interstate agreements. This is cleanup language supported by the Nevada Taxation Department that would enable the state to do a better job of conforming with the interstate Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, which is designed to simplify and modernize administration of the tax. That, in turn, makes it easier for sellers to comply with the tax. The Sun recommends yes on Question 4.