Jim Clark: AB 46 will set terrible precedent
March 14, 2013
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — William H. Silcox, Incline resident and occasional Bonanza contributor, recently wrote the Reno Gazette Journal to bemoan the Washoe County School District's plan to ask the legislature to raise real estate and sales taxes to pay for repairs to crumbling school buildings.
He wrote that this was done just 7 years ago and yet here they are again rattling their tin cup. He labels this "breakdown maintenance" designed to force a tax increase. Silcox wonders whether "school officials would treat their cars the same way." Good points. There are more.
The district's proposal (Assembly Bill 46) immediately ran into trouble because Nevada requires a 2/3 vote and the governor's signature for the legislature to raise taxes. Also, Gov. Sandoval is committed to not raising taxes.
Therefore in and end-around it was amended to enable the school board itself to raise taxes and by only a simple majority. And unlike school bonds this tax increase can be imposed without the approval of Washoe voters. The measure would override the current cap of $3.64 per $100 of assessed valuation, be exempt from the 3 percent cap on increases in residential realty taxes and increase the Washoe sales tax rate. There is no "sunset" provision so the tax would be permanent.
It will set a terrible precedent virtually inviting counties, cities, GIDs, fire districts, etc. to go to the legislature and do the same thing.
We should never have gotten to this point. Since 1979 Nevada law has required school boards to establish a fund for construction, maintenance and repairs and prohibits transferring money from it to pay for other purposes.
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So where is that money? According to former Washoe Superintendent Jim Hagar when distributive school account funds come from the state the teacher union demands them so nothing gets set aside for maintenance and repair. Since 1979 our school board has failed to do its job.
With Nevada unemployment declining only slightly to 11 percent and Gov. Sandoval's aggressive program to attract businesses and jobs to Nevada just starting to work is it smart to override limits established to protect taxpayers? Is this the time to increase sales taxes?
Will that hurt Reno durable goods retailers by incenting consumers to Carson/Douglas. With America's top universities and K-12 schools rapidly turning to on-line delivery of educational services is it a proper use of scarce funds to patch up old buildings? And how about the waste caused by Nevada's "prevailing wage" law that makes government construction jobs cost 20 percent more than those competitively bid?
Having written a column on this bill before it was amended I was not surprised to receive an invitation to breakfast last week from School Supt. Pedro Martinez. We spent a pleasant meal almost entirely discussing Assembly Bill 46. I truly empathize with Supt. Martinez coming into a situation where prior school boards just haven't done their job.
However it's clear that the present school board is not thinking out of the box. This radical tax plan is expected to raise only about $20 million per year and yet there is no apparent effort being made to liquidate excess land (such as the 8+ acre site of the old Incline Elementary School) to replenish the capital account. None of the current year's state allocation of funds has been earmarked for the capital account. Supt. Martinez discussed waning real estate assessments but in fact Washoe County values are recovering.
Governor Sandoval's proposed K-12 budget is $400 million higher than the current one. Based on enrollment Washoe's share of that will be 15 percent or $60 million over 2 years. Why not use that money for repairs, and then start allocating money for buildings out of all future revenues?
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates; he has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.