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Ed Vogel

Teachers offer new gaming tax petition

6 February 2008

CARSON CITY, Nevada -- Risking another lawsuit, the state teachers union filed a new petition Tuesday to increase the gaming tax rate by 3 percentage points and direct the additional revenue to higher teacher salaries.

The latest petition was filed with the secretary of state less than three weeks after Senior Supreme Court Justice Miriam Shearing found the union's initial petition violated a state law that requires petitions to deal with a single subject.

Shearing, acting as a district judge, decided the petition should not have stated the revenue raised from the tax increase would be spent on salaries and other educational programs. She said the petition should state only that additional taxes would be spent on education.

Lynn Warne, president of the 28,000-member Nevada State Education Association, said she was confident her organization's new petition fits within Shearing's decision.

"We looked at what Shearing said, and we believe the language we now provide will clear that hurdle," said Warne, a Washoe County teacher.

She added that widespread public support exists for the petition. The union needs to collect 58,836 valid signatures by May 20 to put it before voters in November.

Polls conducted for the Review-Journal showed more than 2-to-1 support for increasing the gaming tax and using proceeds for education.

NSEA lawyer James Penrose expects the gaming industry again will challenge the legality of the petition.

"The gamers will do whatever they have to do to keep it off the ballot," he said.

Scott Scherer, a lawyer who represented Las Vegas Sands in its challenge of the first NSEA petition, said he had just begun to review the new petition.

In the coming days, he said, he will recommend whether to challenge it.

Scherer added that he thought Shearing was clear in ruling the teachers could not file a petition to increase taxes and then also direct how the tax revenues would be spent.

As with the first go-around, the new petition would let voters decide whether to increase the gaming tax rate, now 6.75 percent, to 9.75 percent. That would raise an additional $250 million to $400 million a year.

The petition would amend the constitution if voters approve it in November and again in 2010.

And like the previous petition, the new petition states how the additional taxes would be spent.

The initial petition stated that 40 percent of the money would be spent on salaries, 40 percent for incentive pay and 20 percent for student programs.

The new petition states that the additional money "must be used to pay the salaries of employees, other than administrative employees" and "to improve the achievement of students."

Penrose said Shearing was concerned that the first petition did not make clear from start that revenues would be used for salaries and other purposes. The new petition resolves her concern, he said.

"What concerned Justice Shearing was that people who might be inclined to vote for increased funds for education might be less inclined to vote for it if they knew funds were for salaries and student achievement programs," Penrose added.

Warne said her organization soon will start circulating petitions, though the wording still could be changed by a judge if the petition were challenged by the gaming industry.

"You can circulate the petition at any time, but you risk, if the wording is changed, that the signatures won't count," Warne said.