Las Vegas Sun

January 25, 2015

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Governor, Legislature seek to keep $62 million for state budget

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CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons and the Nevada Legislature have joined to ask the state Supreme Court to force the Clean Water Coalition in Las Vegas to turn over $62 million to help the financially troubled state government.

A petition was filed Thursday with the court, saying the coalition has no authority to ignore the law passed by the special legislative session to transfer the money.

Two suits have been filed in district court in Las Vegas -- one by the coalition and one by the M Resort -- to stop the state from taking the money. They argue the Legislature had no constitutional right to take the money that is to be used to build a pipeline into Lake Mead.

This petition for a writ of mandamus in the Supreme Court will get the case decided more quickly than the suits in Clark County District Court, a spokesman for the Legislature says.

The petition says the governor, Legislature, Treasurer Kate Marshall and Controller Kim Wallin believe the state “deserves immediate resolution of this matter at the highest levels.” It said months, even years would be required if the suits in Clark County went through their normal legal process.

“The state needs prompt resolution to be able to dependably provide essential services and to plan for the future,” says the petition written by Senior Principal Deputy Legislative Counsel Kevin C. Powers and Solicitor General C. Wayne Howle of the state Attorney General’s office.

The petition says the law approved by the Legislature and signed by Gibbons advances statewide issues “which transcend purely local interests…”

The action says there is no violation of federal or state constitutional rights “because customers who pay money for reasonable utility charges do not have any constitutionally protected rights in that money once it is paid to the local government utility.”

The state faced an $887 million shortfall in its budget during the current biennium. Gibbons called the Legislature into special session and one of the fixes was to order the water coalition to transfer the money.

The Legislature said it took “unspent surplus funds from various sources” and the law was clear that the water authority must shift the $62 million to the state treasury.

The water coalition was created by the state and includes the Clark County Water Reclamation District and the cities of Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.

The suit says “political subdivisions cannot challenge state legislation which requires the transfer of property from the political subdivision on these constitutional grounds.”

The water coalition now will submit an answer to the Supreme Court.

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