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November 23, 2014

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Legislature 2013:

Senate Democrats give up on payroll tax hike to help schools

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democratic leaders, from left, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, answer media questions following Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State address at the Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013.

Running up against the reality of a powerful Republican minority, Senate Democrats on Tuesday gave up on their push for a payroll tax increase to fund education programs they've argued all session are critical to fund now.

In a tearful floor speech in which he noted the education struggles of his own son, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, lamented the fact Democrats couldn't garner enough votes to support a payroll tax increase to finance class size reduction, universal full-day kindergarten and more programs for English language learners.

"The disappointing part is that as soon as it got out of my lips, the response was 'no way,' 'dead on arrival,' 'gonna veto it'," Denis said. "Without even hearing what the merits are."

Denis was set to make the case for the payroll tax increase on large businesses and the mining industry in a public hearing this afternoon. That hearing was scuttled, but an hours long floor debate ensued.

"Today, I will not be having a hearing on SB514 because I know what will happen," Denis said, arguing lawmakers would spend a futile couple of hours arguing for more education funding before Republicans would accuse them of trying to push a job-killing tax increase.

The capitulation is a further indication that Democrats will concede to Gov. Brian Sandoval, passing in large part his $6.6 billion state budget plan. Sandoval has proposed $120 million in additional funding for English language learner programs, full-day kindergarten and other programs.

Democrats have argued the funding is not enough for a school system burdened with massive class sizes and poor graduation rates while undergoing $700 million in cuts through the recession.

But Republicans, led by Sandoval, refused to consider a tax increase this session. Sandoval, who faces re-election next year, contends the recovering economy will be enough to fund education services.

"I'm discouraged by the depression I am hearing about what we’re doing this session because I think it’s positive," Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said, noting Sandoval's increased education funding.

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, took a less diplomatic approach, lambasting Democrats for a failure to lead.

"The people outside this building know who led and who didn't lead," Roberson said. "The people outside this building expected more from the majority party."

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, fired back: "I'm tired of this conversation about the 'majority party,' as if it's only our job to get something done on education."

This is a developing story.

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