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Ed Vogel

Resorts argue against petition

2 April 2008

CARSON CITY, Nevada -- Gaming lawyers even brought up a song from "Mary Poppins" in arguing Tuesday why a judge should throw out the latest Nevada State Education Association petition to increase the gaming tax rate.

Las Vegas Sands Inc. lawyer Scott Scherer gave his best Julie Andrews impression in singing "Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" as he explained why he thought the teachers association petition violated a previous court order.

Scherer mentioned to Senior Justice Miriam Shearing, acting as a district judge, how in January she threw out a similar teachers association petition because it contained impermissible "logrolling." Shearing also ruled that the teachers' proposal violated a law limiting petitions to a single subject.

Shearing's opinion in the ruling defined "logrolling" as the process that occurs when voters figure they have no choice but to back a petition that contains multiple items, including some they oppose, in order to secure approval of an item they like.

Scherer and Nevada Resort Association lawyer Todd Bice said Tuesday that the new teachers association petition might be popular with voters because it calls for spending some of the increased gaming tax revenue on programs to increase student achievement.

That is the "sugar" portion of the petition, Scherer said.

But he noted the petition also mandates that some taxes would be spent on pay increases for teachers and school workers, other than administrators.

"They (the teachers association) were afraid the public would vote down higher salaries if they didn't sugar it with student achievement," he said.

Shearing made no comment on the lawyers' arguments. She is expected to make a decision in a couple of days.

As a retired Supreme Court justice, she is permitted by law to participate in district court cases when other judges are busy or have recused themselves from participating.

Time is of the essence because the teachers association faces a May 20 deadline to collect a required 58,836 signatures to put the proposal on the November ballot.

NSEA President Lynn Warne said the teachers have not collected signatures yet as they await Shearing's decision.

Both gaming lawyers said it was clear to them the primary motive of the teachers association is to secure more pay for its members, not to improve student achievement.

Scherer noted that in her January decision, Shearing said the initial petition could have been circulated if the NSEA said the taxes simply would be spent on "education."

He said the teachers association would not risk such a petition because it would not have guaranteed that its members would receive higher pay.

"They know that what really matters to them is unlikely to pass," Scherer said.

NSEA lawyer Michael Dyer argued that no matter how the petition is constructed, the gaming industry would oppose it.

"They want to keep it off the ballot," he said. "Gaming does not want voters to decide if there should be increases in gaming taxes for any reason."

He contended the petition did not violate the single-subject rule or contain logrolling. He said multiple subjects are allowed in petitions by law if they are "functionally related or germane to each other."

Dyer said no one brings up logrolling in presidential elections even though a voter may back a presidential candidate when he does not like the candidate's vice presidential running mate.

A Review-Journal poll in the fall found that more than two-thirds of respondents would support the increase in the gaming tax if funds were spent on education.