Wednesday, June 25, 2003 | 1:35 a.m.
Nevada's second special session on taxes convenes
CARSON CITY, Nev.- Rhetoric continued as Nevada lawmakers gathered for the start Wednesday of their second special session on taxes, following the June 2 adjournment of the regular session that failed to produce a revenue plan to support a $5 billion state budget.
Besides the comments from lawmakers, pro- and anti-tax groups planned demonstrations in front of the Legislature as the drawn-out effort to balance the record, two-year budget resumed.
Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said the special session will focus on a nearly $870 million tax plan "that will tax big business, banking and gaming to fund education" - and legislators "trying to obstruct this process" should "stop playing political games with our children's future."
The comment targeted Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, who has led the opposition to the tax package. Hettrick said he thinks he can get enough votes to cut the tax hike to about $700 million - and he won't "just roll over and go away."
Hettrick, Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, and other tax foes were working on possible cuts to reduce the budget. But Hettrick said he wasn't releasing his list of cuts in advance of the special session because he didn't want critics to take "pot shots" at the plan.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who has backed Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn's efforts to raise enough taxes for the state's already approved budget, said that unless there's a compromise in the special session a judge could wind up deciding the matter.
Guinn already has said he'd consider suing GOP legislators who have held up approval of the tax package. The governor also said he wouldn't give in to "blackmail" demands to reopen the budget.
Guinn also said legislators must "work feverishly" to approve adequate taxes to support Nevada's K-12 school system. He said existing tax revenues are sufficient for other government operations. Legislators still haven't approved a proposed $1.6 billion school aid plan that's part of the $5 billion budget.
Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she's hopeful that a compromise will be reached because "the situation is so dire for schools if people don't do the right thing."
Buckley also criticized a media blitz that has included costly, full-page newspaper ads by multimillionaire Las Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow to promote an anti-tax rally Wednesday at the Legislature. The Nevada Republican Liberty Caucus is busing people to the event.
The Liberty Caucus also is paying for radio ads that warn Guinn could face a recall campaign. The group's chairman, George Harris of Las Vegas, said the threat is being made because the governor "refuses to listen" to taxpayers.
Buckley, in her out-of-session job at Clark County Legal Services, several years ago got a nearly $2 million settlement for tenants abruptly evicted from Las Vegas apartment complexes owned by Bigelow.
Over the past several decades, Bigelow also has become one of the world's leading financiers of UFO research.
"It's not surprising that a millionaire who has done very well in Las Vegas, who pays taxes on business enterprises in other states, should want to avoid paying taxes in Nevada," Buckley said. "I believe we should fund our children's education - we should put children before Martians."
Besides the Liberty Caucus-sponsored rally, pro-tax groups plan a demonstration at the Legislature to support the levies needed to balance the budget.
"Big business' free ride is over," said Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which is helping to organize the event. "Big businesses need to start paying their fair share for our state's growing population's needs."
Perkins also said an opinion from the lawmakers' legal counsel has confirmed that the Legislature can't pass the education budget measure without passing the taxes needed to fund it.
"A few Republican assemblymen are trying to make the public believe that the education budget can be passed without the revenue to fund it," Perkins said. "They know that is not the case, and they are trying to mislead the public..."
Perkins added legislators "claiming they are willing to support education, but not the revenue package to fund it, know that the two must go hand-in-hand."
The speaker also said schools need their state funds in early August, but won't get them unless the education budget and funding package are approved.