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Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita during the Clark County School District school board meeting at Liberty High School on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

A Carson City judge has called for some changes to the wording of a proposed ballot measure that seeks to raise the gaming tax by more than 40 percent to support education.

Judge James Wilson on Monday ordered that the effective date on the petition be changed, and wording adjusted to reflect that the proceeds of the gaming tax go to the general fund and are not earmarked solely for public schools. John Vellardita, head of the Clark County Education Association that is spearheading the effort, said the union had no plans to withdraw the petition as gaming industry representatives would like.

“Not going to do it,” Vellardita said after the hearing.

The proposed ballot initiative would raise the state’s gaming tax rate from 6.75 percent to 9.75 percent and is expected to raise roughly $650 million per two-year budget cycle. 

The Nevada Resort Association, the casino trade organization that filed the original lawsuit against the measure, has opposed the initiative on grounds that it would be damaging to the state’s economy. The group also argued that the petition was misleading because it doesn’t explain that proceeds flowing to the general fund support a variety of state expenses, not just schools.

“Asking voters to support a gaming tax is a much different question than asking voters to support a gaming tax that will support education,” said Matt Griffin, an attorney for the trade association.

The teacher union’s companion proposal to raise the sales tax was enjoined by a judge on Friday pending changes to its description of effect. Since that court hearing, Gov. Steve Sisolak has directed the closure of schools statewide and dramatic restrictions on the size of social gatherings and the operation of state government, while major casinos have announced closures for an undetermined amount of time.

Asked if he thinks public support for the proposed tax hikes will wane amid widespread economic uncertainty, Vellardita said he thinks the instability only makes a stronger case for reinforcing Nevada’s lagging education system, which is often cited as a reason businesses will not move to the state.

“One of the lessons that came out of the downturn in the economy is that Nevada could not sustain itself on two industries,” Vellardita said. “There isn’t a better time than now to make that argument. If you’re dependent on gaming, sales tax, and there’s a downturn, as a result you suffer.”

Beyond clearing court hurdles, the petitions demand a broad signature-gathering effort before they can proceed to the Legislature for consideration.

Nevada law requires backers of a statutory initiative to gather signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters who cast a ballot in the previous election. For the 2020 election cycle, that means a minimum of 97,598 valid signatures total and at least 24,400 in each of the state’s four congressional districts must be submitted by Nov. 18, 2020.

If enough signatures are deemed valid, the initiative petition moves to the 2021 Legislature, where lawmakers have 40 days to approve the petition. If they reject the petition or take no action, it would then move to the 2022 ballot.

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