Friday, March 13, 2009 | 2 a.m.
IN THEIR WORDS
HOW HORSFORD SEES IT: “It is about the future and the children who depend upon us in the classroom. The children are more important to me than any teachers group, than any company who thinks they can decide tax policy,” state Senate Majority Leader Steve Horsford said during a debate on increasing the room tax.
QUESTIONING HIS COMMITMENT: “If he represents the children, why has he represented them in such a way that has left them sitting in overcrowded classrooms with lack of supplies and teaching materials?” Nevada State Education Association President Lynn Warne said.
In Today's Sun
The president of the state teachers union lashed out Thursday at state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, exposing an apparent divide in the Democratic coalition, which had been expected to work together to restore money cut from education.
Lynn Warne, president of the 30,000-member Nevada State Education Association, took issue with Horsford for comments he made while debating the hotel room tax increase for education funding approved this week.
During the debate, Horsford, a Las Vegas Democrat, said he supported the measure reluctantly: “It is about the future and the children who depend upon us in the classroom. The children are more important to me than any teachers group, than any company who thinks they can decide tax policy. The children are the ones I am here to represent.”
Warne questioned that commitment: “If he represents the children, why has he represented them in such a way that has left them sitting in overcrowded classrooms with lack of supplies and teaching materials?” she said. She noted Nevada’s per pupil spending ranks near the bottom nationally.
The tax increase came in the form of an initiative petition, crafted by the teachers union and three major gaming companies. The coalition collected enough signatures to effectively force the Legislature to vote on the measure without the ability to amend or change it.
The 3 percentage point increase in the room tax cleared the Senate after Assembly passage and will take effect July 1.
Warne said other comments by Horsford and by his Senate colleagues were “completely off base, misleading and deceptive.”
Horsford addressed the criticism: “First, we all have a moral obligation to do what we can for the state, its future and our children. The people of Nevada know I have been one of their staunchest allies before and since I have been elected.”
Asked whether the row would make budget negotiations harder during the session, he said, “Over the next 10 weeks we all have to work together to figure out how to responsibly balance our budget and do so in a way that doesn’t do it on the backs of our children. I will work with anyone, with any group, that shares my belief that our kids come first.”
Warne’s attack was surprising given Horsford’s history of advocating for education funding and his record of education reform going back to his days as a lobbyist for R&R Partners.
The episode capped off a week in which the teachers scored a victory with the room tax increase, though it may turn out to be a pyrrhic one, as the union seemed to anger lawmakers. Legislators pounded them during testimony on the initiative petition and then during the Senate floor debate.
Warne frustrated her allies and delighted opponents when she told senators more than once during her testimony that the union had made decisions about how to proceed after reading polls.
Senators objected to the creation of tax policy through the initiative process and the earmarking of funds to a specific purpose, a policy process that has wreaked havoc in California for decades. They also said the timing couldn’t be worse, as the gaming industry suffers its worst recession in history.
The measure passed but with five nays, even though the public supported it by a wide margin in an advisory ballot question in November.
State Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Reno, thundered against the petition, calling it “mob rule” and voted against it though he was said to be originally committed to supporting it.
Of Washington and “mob rule,” Warne said: “I guess he would be referring to the voters, the parents and his own constituents. Sen. Washington needs to be held accountable,” she said, noting that the initiative petition process was set down in statute by the Legislature and thus could hardly be called “mob rule.”
State Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, also hit the union during the debate, saying, “This may pass and you will consider yourself to have won. But I want you to know that if that happens, you may very well, in the long run, have lost.”
Warne sounded incredulous: “As for Care, I don’t know what to say. I guess I view his comments as a threat.”
Warne said she’s concerned about what the debate this week portends: “If this is the kind of angst they have on a measure supported by the people and the industry impacted, I don’t see much hope for a broad-based revenue package to fund essential services,” she said.
She added, “It’s gonna get ugly before we’re done.”