weather icon Overcast

Cegavske won’t allow tax petitions off 2022 ballot

Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has informed the attorney general’s office she will not allow the authors of two petitions to increase the state sales and gaming taxes to withdraw those measures from the 2022 ballot.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Aaron Ford, Cegavske said a state law modified in the 2021 Legislature specifically to allow for the withdrawal of petitions does not comport with Article 19, Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution, which contains no reference to withdrawal.

“The Nevada Constitution requires the secretary of state to follow a procedure once an initiative petition has obtained the required number of verified signatures,” Cegavske’s letter reads. “As such, a statute cannot interfere with that duty.

“Although our office received a request to withdraw a petition which obtained the required number of signatures … the secretary of state anticipates following her duty to act as outlined in the Nevada Constitution by placing the initiative petition on the ballot during the 2022 general election for adoption or rejection by the voters.”

In July, Ford’s office issued an opinion that reasoned petitions could be withdrawn by their authors and not violate the state constitution. The opinion, written by Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Zunino, says the law approved by the Legislature “imposes upon the secretary of state an enforceable ministerial duty to honor a timely notice of withdrawal that the secretary has no discretion to disregard.”

And, the opinion added, because the constitution doesn’t specifically prohibit the withdrawal of petitions, “there is no direct conflict between the plain language of Article 19, Section 2 and that of (state law). The provisions can, and should, be read and interpreted in harmony.”

‘Affirmative duty’

But Cegavske’s letter takes the opposite view, noting the constitution says the secretary of state “shall” submit an initiative to the voters.

“The use of the word ‘shall’ in ordinary language imposes a mandatory, not discretionary, obligation,” her letter says. “Although the Nevada Legislature can adopt statutes ‘for procedures to facilitate the operation’ of the initiative process as provided in (the Nevada Constitution), the affirmative duty imposed by the Nevada Constitution on the secretary supersedes any statutory enactments by the Nevada Legislature that contradict the affirmative duty.”

The politics behind the controversy are ironic: Cegavske, who served as a Republican lawmaker from Las Vegas in the Assembly and state Senate, steadfastly opposed all taxes during her legislative career, yet now is arguing to allow the voters to decide on taxes to raise the state’s sales and gaming taxes.

And Ford, who served as a Democratic state senator before being elected attorney general in 2018, is backing the idea that the voters shouldn’t necessarily get a chance to decide on a properly qualified petition to increase taxes, so long as its authors ask for it to be withdrawn.

Court fight possible

The controversy began in 2020, when the Clark County Education Association improbably qualified two voter initiatives during a year when the state was mostly shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One would add a new tier to the state’s gaming taxes, applying a higher tax of 9.75 percent of all revenue of more than $250,000 in a given month.

Proceeds would go to the state’s general fund. Another would increase by 1.5 percentage points a portion of the state’s sales tax that goes directly to education.

But as part of a deal struck at the end of the session, the teachers union agreed to withdraw its petitions in lieu of an increase on the state’s mining industry, which passed and was signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Attorneys for the petitions’ backers have formally requested both taxes be withdrawn from the ballot.

Cegavske’s move likely sets up a legal battle, with tax proponents potentially filing a lawsuit to force the state to withdraw their petitions. That could lead to a court ruling deciding whether the attorney general’s position, or Cegavske’s, is the correct interpretation of current state law and the constitution.

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said the union was considering its next steps. “We’re reviewing our options,” he said. “After we review our options, we’ll decide how to proceed.”

In addition, because Ford’s office has opined that the petitions can be withdrawn, it’s unclear if the attorney general would represent Cegavske’s contrary position in any legal fight or if the state would have to hire outside counsel.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment on Cegavske’s letter on Monday.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Pahrump community partakes of Photos with Santa

The Salvation Army headquarters in Pahrump was abuzz with activity on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 26, 27 and 28 as members of the Nye County Chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace worked to bring some holiday cheer to the valley while also raising much-needed funds to support its nonprofit mission.

Assemblyman Hafen decries state redistricting, files lawsuit

The election of Pahrump’s Nevada State Assembly representative just got a bit more complicated, thanks to the approval of a redistricting proposal by the Legislature last month.

No support from Pahrump committee for Rough Hat Nye solar project

The evening of Tuesday, Nov. 30 was a long one for members of the Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Committee, which convened a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. and did not adjourn until around 9:30 p.m. that night.

Pahrump man facing first-degree arson charge

A Pahrump man is facing a first-degree arson charge after admitting to setting his home on fire.

Local Salvation Army hit by thieves

As Pahrump’s Salvation Army prepares to serve families in need during the holiday season, approximately $500 worth of new toys set aside for its annual Angel Tree program were recently stolen, along with Christmas decorations and items being stored for the Kiwanis Club and Pahrump’s Sleep In Heavenly Peace organization.

Pahrump community comes together for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for appreciation and for hundreds of Pahrump area residents and visitors, there was plenty to be grateful for this year at the Pahrump Holiday Task Force’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

Pahrump Valley Academy virtual town hall set for Saturday

Throughout much of 2019 and into 2020, a group of local residents hoping to add a new educational option to the valley worked diligently toward establishing Pahrump Valley Academy, which would have been the valley’s very first public charter school, only to have the proposal nixed in early 2020.

Rotary Club encouraging students to read

The Pahrump Rotary Club has performed countless community service projects since its inception in 1987.