Democrats look to pot, local sales tax for additional education money

Sisolak conference
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday during a press conference about K-12 education funding. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis).

Democrats on Tuesday announced two pieces of legislation meant to bring additional money to the state’s education system.

The first piece of legislation, SB 545, would divert money from the existing 10 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales from the Rainy Day Fund to the Distributive Schools Account. That would bring an additional $120 million to the state’s education system during the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

The second piece of legislation, an amendment to AB 309, would allow counties to raise their sales tax by a quarter-cent to support education. The Nevada Independent previewed the expected amendment, which was scheduled to be introduced by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson during an Assembly Ways and Means committee hearing Tuesday night.

Frierson described the marijuana funding bill as a righting of wrongs made during the 2017 Legislative Session. Many Nevadans have said they feel deceived by the state’s handling of marijuana tax money, saying they voted in favor of recreational sales because they believed it would fund education.

The amendment would essentially allow counties to create a dedicated source of funding to support educator salaries. Individual county commissions would either have to approve a sales tax increase by a two-thirds majority, or county voters would have to approve by a simple majority on a ballot.

During a press conference about the proposed legislation, Gov. Steve Sisolak suggested he did not see the sales tax amendment as contradictory to his no new taxes policy.

“I’m not forcing anyone to raise anything,” he said.

Republican lawmakers were still quick to pan the proposal.

GOP state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer tweeted that Democrats have opted to “punt increased funding to local governments so they can raise a tax they’ve always considered regressive.”

At the press conference, Sisolak also expressed frustration over the public narrative that his proposed budget did not properly fund education. Sisolak said his staff received budget requests from the individual school districts and funded them. He said that included enough money for the 3 percent educator raises he promised during his State of the State speech, as well as roll-up costs, merit pay increases and increased healthcare costs.

“We funded the budgets fully,” Sisolak said, adding that months later district projections changed and were suddenly short. “That story isn’t being told.”

When asked by media, Sisolak would not comment on the threatened teachers strike, which members of the Clark County Education Association authorized for next school year if adequate funding is not achieved.

As of publication, CCEA has not issued a statement in response to the funding bills. However, in an email sent to members of the union, the union introduced a description of the sales tax increase amendment by noting, “We’re glad to report that progress is being made.”

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.

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