Despite flip-flop on mining tax, teachers union says no regret of Pickard endorsement

After 11 days, lawmakers still massaging huge budget cuts

By: - July 19, 2020 5:49 am
Pickard and Settelmeyer

State Sen. Keith Pickard speaks with Minority Leader James Settelmeyer inside the Nevada Legislature on the 11th day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Saturday, July 18, 2020. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

The Clark County Education Association is standing by its oft-criticized 2018 endorsement of the Republican state senator whose about-face on a proposal to raise taxes on the mining industry resulted in a failure to raise $50 million revenue for education during an unprecedented budget shortfall.

State Sen. Keith Pickard on Saturday voted against a bill that would have capped the amount of deductions lucrative mining companies are allowed to take. The bill was estimated to bring in $100 million for Fiscal Year 2021 — half of which would have been placed into a fund dedicated to K-12 education. The Republican’s no vote came less than 24 hours after The Nevada Independent reported that Pickard had reached a deal with Nevada Democrats and would break ranks to support the amended bill, whose original form failed on a 13-8 party-line vote early Friday.

After the original bill failed, Pickard on the floor of the Senate said he would be “a strong yes, if this were going to education.”

Pickard’s walk back of that promise sparked immediate outrage — and not just at the senator, though he was branded  “Senator Flipard” by progressive groups pushing for mining tax reform. Much ire was directed at CCEA, which endorsed Pickard over Democrat Julie Pazina in 2018. Pickard won that election by only 24 votes, and ever since, he and CCEA have been labeled the reason Democrats don’t have the two-thirds supermajority needed to raise revenue.

Flip-flop sandals lead to
state Sen. Keith Pickard’’s office inside the Legislature on the 11th day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Saturday, July 18, 2020. More than 300 sandals were placed inside the legislature by members of the Assembly. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

But the union boss says he doesn’t regret that choice.

“We work in a bipartisan manner. We’ve been burned by Democrats too,” said CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita. “Do I regret it? It’s politics. Do we regret it? No. We work across the aisle. We don’t regret. We re-calibrate. But there will be consequences.”

Pickard’s change-of-heart on the bill was reported by the Review-Journal even before the amendment with the senator’s requests had been introduced. In response, the official CCEA Twitter account tweeted that the senator had broken his promise to educators. The tweet concluded, “One termer.” The tweet has since been deleted.

After casting his nay vote, Pickard told the chamber he had been asked to address CCEA directly. In his comments, he apologized no less than three times and claimed he’d learned that “thousands” of jobs would be lost if the bill passed. He also stressed that proper input wasn’t received by the industry.

“To my friends at CCEA, I’m truly sorry,” he said. “I wanted to find money for them. I just couldn’t take it out of somebody’s pocket without their consent.”

Pickard vowed to rectify his mistake by pushing forward conversations about education funding.

“There’s a process in this and we should adhere to it and it was not adhered to in this session. But it will be in the next.”

Vellardita told the Current the union is “very disappointed, no doubt” in Pickard but also believes there is plenty of blame to go around — starting with Gov. Steve Sisolak.

“The lesson we learned from this special session is we need leadership from the top,” said Vellardita. “He shouldn’t be suggesting revenue ideas come from anyone but himself. We need a leader who pushes for bipartisan solutions.”

Sisolak prior to the session punted on the issue of revenue, saying it was up to the Legislature to come up with something. He did indicate he would sign Assembly Bill 4 if it made it past the Senate.

As for the legislators: “I do not know how anyone defends their record here.”

The 31st Special Session is tasked with addressing a $1.2 billion shortfall. After 11 days, the Legislature has passed several bills to cut capital improvement projects and expand borrowing options for the state. However, the pièce de résistance of the session — the budget bill detailing half a billion dollars worth of cuts — has yet to be passed.

The Assembly made progress on the bill Saturday, even taking a vote to amend it and restore funding to some of the worst cuts. However, they are expected to revisit it Sunday in order to address the proposed cuts to K-12 support for economically disadvantaged students — something that had been addressed in the now twice-defeated mining tax deduction bill.

Vellardita, along with other education groups like Nevada State Education Association and the Charter School Association of Nevada, have been vocal in their opposition to education cuts, arguing that cutting funding amid a pandemic is unconscionable. Schools across the state are simultaneously awaiting the outcome of the state budget and trying to plan for reopening.

Like many advocates and lobbyists, Vellardita went into the special session with low expectations, saying prior to its convening that “at the end of the day it’ll be one list after another where cuts were made.”

He said then, and he reiterated late Saturday, that the teachers union is focused on long-term revenue solutions. He furthered that CCEA is pressing forward with their two ballot initiatives. One is to raise the Local Schools Support Tax, which is part of the statewide sales tax. The second is to raise the gaming tax rate.

The sales tax initiative has been criticized by progressive groups for being regressive. Poor people pay a larger percentage of their income on sales tax than wealthier people. Clark County already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country.

Vellardita said the union focused on sales tax because they want a dedicated funding stream, which the Local Schools Support Tax provides. The state has a history of using money earmarked for education to supplant other money earmarked for education, resulting in a wash of funding for the chronically underfunded K-12 system.

But he said the mining tax should be on the table, too.

Pickard declined a request for an interview after the vote Saturday, saying via text message that everything he had to say was on the record.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. 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, three children and one mutt.