A Nevada voting initiative isn’t like a boring date. Even if you don’t find it pleasurable anymore, you can’t get out of it.
In late December, the Clark County Education Association filed a lawsuit demanding Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske withdraw two initiatives she sponsored. Otherwise, voters will decide the fate of the proposals in November.
A ballot question would raise the sales tax by 1.5 percentage points, bringing the rate to nearly 10% in Clark County. The other would increase the top gambling tax rate by over 40%.
In its lawsuit, the union argues that the law allows initiative promoters to withdraw voting measures. But in previous correspondence, Ms Cegavske said she would be guided by a higher law – the Nevada Constitution. Unless the legislature approves it, the constitution states that “the secretary of state shall submit” a qualified initiative to the voters. “Shall” leaves no room for maneuver.
That did not stop Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office from tendering the teachers’ union, saying in a formal notice that – in this case – “must” is optional. The easiest way to test this theory is to try it out with the roles reversed. Imagine that Ms Cegavske, a Republican, refused to submit a union-backed tax increase initiative to voters. There is no doubt that Mr. Ford and the Democrats would have reacted with outrage at his refusal to follow the constitution.
The politics of power explains what is happening. The union used these initiatives as leverage to extract a new mining tax in the 2021 legislative session. This tax was only a small part of what the union previously claimed was needed to adequately fund education. The union has agreed to withdraw the initiatives as part of the deal anyway.
Having two massive tax hikes on the ballot is likely to hurt Democrats, especially Gov. Steve Sisolak. The potential industry spending against the gambling tax increase would likely push conservative voters to the polls. This is before considering that the November election promises to be an electoral wave for Republicans.
Union and Democratic leaders seem to know these initiatives are political losers and want an escape clause. But the constitution does not provide for it. This is a good thing. Allowing the union to withdraw these initiatives would only encourage vested interests to try similar blackmail schemes in the future.
The Nevada Supreme Court, where it inevitably heads, has an uneven record when it comes to upholding the clear wording of the constitution. Either way, Ms Cegavske is right to prioritize her duty to the constitution over political considerations.