Perhaps nobody at the Nevada Legislature this year has been more insistent than
Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis that the state must immediately put more money
into Nevada's education system.
And Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval could hardly have been more clear when he said he opposes and would veto Denis' bill to increase payroll taxes for education.
But Denis will make the case today that his payroll tax hike proposal is the best way to help Nevada's schools next school year.
Noting that Nevada consistently ranks near the bottom of state-by-state education comparisons, the Las Vegas Democrat is proposing increasing the state's payroll tax from 1.17 percent to 1.5 percent for big businesses and to 2 percent for the mining industry.
Businesses with less than $250,000 in annual payroll would be exempt, as they currently are.
His bill would bring in an estimated $255 million during the next two years and is up for a hearing at 1:30 p.m. today in the Senate Revenue Committee.
The money would pay for Democratic proposals implementing universal full-day kindergarten classes, more programming for English-language learners, and class-size reduction for children in kindergarten and grades one through three.
As opposed to a Senate Republican mining tax plan that would be on the ballot in 2014, Denis is selling his plan as the only legislative proposal that will immediately deliver a large cash infusion to the state's education system during the upcoming school year, a move he says will improve test scores and help schoolchildren have a better education.
Republicans have called the proposal a nonstarter, noting that economic growth, revised revenue projections and other routine budget adjustments have resulted in the state's two-year education budget growing by about a half billion dollars over current spending levels. (Democrats say that about $120 million of this money pays for new programs; the rest is the result of enrollment growth and other roll-up costs.)
Denis said he wants Republicans to consider his proposal because they've been saying all legislative session that the state's education system deserves more money.
"We can make the case that we need to do more today, and if they don't want to do that, if they want to come out publicly and say, 'No, we don't want to do more for education,' they can do that," he said. "But it's the right thing to do. It's right for our kids."
Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, told Denis the plan was dead on arrival. Democrats need three Senate Republicans to join them to pass the tax, so Roberson's words carry weight.
"A massive expansion in the payroll tax will instead result in more Nevadans losing their jobs," he said in a statement read on the Senate floor. "I will not support it."
Denis said the payroll tax plan is simply the only way to put significantly more money into the education system during the next academic year.
Sitting in his office last week, he explained how the proposal came about.
In conversations with state tax experts, he quickly learned that the only way to accomplish his goal would be to work within the state's current tax structure because a new tax would take years to implement.
"The thing that became quite apparent right away was that if we want to do
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