Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2014

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Briefs filed in Guinn suit

CARSON CITY - State employees, union workers, the school districts of Clark and Washoe counties and the university system have joined Gov. Kenny Guinn in asking the Nevada Supreme Court to force the Legislature to act on a tax package.

The Nevada State Employees Association, the Nevada State AFL-CIO, the two school districts and the board of regents of the University and Community College System all submitted briefs Thursday urging the court to find the Legislature in violation of its constitutional duties for failing to pass a bill to fund the public schools and to approve a tax package to balance the budget.

The deadline for filing briefs is 5 p.m. on Monday. But legislative leaders plan a Saturday meeting in an effort to break the deadlock. The Senate has approved an $873 million tax plan and funding for the schools.

A group of 15 Republican Assemblymen is blocking passage until the proposed $4.9 billion budget is reduced and the requirement for new taxes is pared down to $704 million.

Guinn filed suit Tuesday, the start of the fiscal year, after the lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement on a tax plan and did not pass the bill for $1.6 billion for the public schools over the next two years. The governor wants the Legislature to comply with the state constitution within a set time limit.

A friend of the court brief from the state employees and the labor union said the Supreme Court must respect other branches of government but "all branches must respect the state Constitution."

The brief, prepared by attorney Andrew Kahn, said that while courts will not tell a Legislature or a governor how to exercise discretion given them by the Constitution, "courts will order them to make some choice without further unreasonable delay."

Kahn said the court ordering the Legislature to comply with the constitution is "much less judicial intervention in school financing than most states have already seen." For instance, the courts in 14 states have ruled that schoolfunding systems violated state constitutions because there was not enough money.

Nevada's constitution provides that the Legislature must finance the school system and must pass enough taxes to balance the budget.

The Legislature approved $3.2 billion for the operation of state government but the $1.6 billion biennial school aid bill has not been passed. And the lawmakers must approve an estimated $870 million in taxes to keep the budget balanced.

The Clark County School District, in a friend of the court brief prepared by attorney C. W. Hoffman, Jr., said that each day's delay makes it harder to recruit new teachers for the opening of school.

The district said it plans to open 12 new schools this year but the hiring of teachers is "contingent upon the level of funding" for wages and supplies. Hoffman said that 20 percent of the contract offers to potential school teachers have been rejected.

Seventy percent of the new teachers hired for the Clark County School District come from out of state and Hoffman said, "every day that passes means fewer and fewer are willing or even able to relocate their families across the country."

At this time last year, the district had signed 803 new teachers and another 201 were pending. This year, 565 applicants have accepted contracts and another 128 have not yet responded.

Because of the "uncertain fiscal environment," the district has moved about 411 teachers from special programs into regular classrooms, said the brief.

The school district said 87 percent of every dollar in the budget is spent to pay teachers and others. "The Legislature's failure, thus far, to fund education has had extensive personnel and human resources impacts," upon the district, said Hoffman.

The state distributed $60 million to the school districts in Nevada on Tuesday. The next apportionment is due in the first part of August.

The university system, through its general counsel Thomas Ray, intervened in the Guinn suit, hoping to convince the court to order the Legislature to comply with the constitution.

"In that the Nevada Legislature and its members have failed to approve a complete budget along with a revenue source to balance the budget as mandated by the Nevada Constitution, petitioner (the university) has been harmed," Ray said.

Ray sought to file as an intervener, giving him status to argue if oral arguments are allowed. But the court refused him that status but permitted him to file his brief.

The state workers and the university fear that the lawmakers may reopen the budget already passed and start making reductions in their spending programs for the 2003-05 fiscal years.

Part of the budget already approved provides for a 2 percent pay raise for state workers and university faculty in July 2004 and there have been reports that could be delayed or canceled as part of any compromise.

The Nevada State Education Association, which represents schoolteachers, is also planning to file a brief in support of the governor's position.

Meanwhile Gov. Guinn signed Senate Bill 1 Thursday to appropriate $250,000 to cover the cost of this second special session of the Legislature. He also signed Senate Bill 3 to transfer the duty of issuing casino work cards from the counties to the state Gaming Control Board. The law becomes effective Oct. 1.

Present work cards will continue to be valid until their expiration dates. Those will no expiration date will expire on the person's birthday in 2005. These work cards by the state will be valid for five years, unless disciplinary action is taken against the employee by the state.

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