Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell — of redistricting and “ballot royale” special congressional election fame — today rejected an initiative petition proposing to raise taxes on (gasp!) Nevada’s big casinos. Russell found that the description of the effect of the measure, read to voters at the door before they are asked to sign the petition, was misleading.
The petition language was challenged by the Nevada Resort Association in a legal brief that cited several concerns, including the use of the term “unrestricted” instead of “nonrestricted” to identify the casinos in question, and the use of the term “gross revenue” instead of “gross gaming revenue.”
(Note for out of state readers: Restricted licenses cover taverns/bars and convenience/grocery/liquor stores that offer small-scale slots-only gaming. A nonrestricted gaming license is granted to casinos operating more than 15 slot machines and/or table games, sports books, live keno and poker rooms.)
Attorney Maggie McLetchie, representing the pro-tax peeps, argued that Russell could easily rewrite the description of effect — i.e. change the prefix “un” to “non” and add the word “gross” — thus allowing the signature gathering process to begin again without further nonsen– er, legal challenges from the NRA.
Russell said he did not believe he had the authority to rewrite the description, even though McLetchie pointed out that Nevada judges have in the past rewritten descriptions of effect on other initiative petitions (hello, Judge Jim Wilson). But hey, to each his own. It’s not like there should be consistent judicial standards in these cases or anything.
The gaming tax hike peeps can at least be glad that Russell did not instruct them to adopt the Nevada Resort Association’s proposed description that would emphasize “a 31.6 percent tax increase” on the casinos, a fun fact reported by Jon Ralston earlier this week.
The initiative would set a new tax rate of 9 percent on net casino gambling revenue above $250,000 per month. Currently, net casino gambling revenue in excess of $134,000 per month is taxed at a 6.75 percent rate.
So Russell has ruled and Las Vegas businessman and the effort’s money man Monte Miller will file a new proposal and begin the signature gathering effort again. Miller, through a group called Nevadans for a Fair 9% Gambling Revenue Tax (NF9GRT) — say that five times fast — had only so far gathered about 500 signatures according to the Las Vegas Sun.
The group has until November to collect 72,352 valid signatures in order to send the proposal to the Legislature in 2013.
As pointed out in a Nevada News Bureau story today, if the proposal gets to Carson City and the Legislature does not enact it within 40 days, it would go to voters in 2014 and then take effect in 2015 if approved. The Legislature could also opt to put a competing proposal on the ballot for voters to consider.
Interesting note: The Nevada Legislature would ordinarily have to get a two-thirds vote to approve any tax hike, BUT a competing tax proposal could be placed on the ballot by a simple majority vote. (So, Democrats…there’s your way around that hated 2/3rds rule for tax hikes.)
If two competing measures on the ballot received more than 50 percent of the vote, the one receiving the largest number of votes would take effect.