Can lawmakers execute a quadruple bank shot to pass a tax plan?

UPDATE: I'm reliably told Democrats, as I reported previously on Twitter, are considering a corporate income tax component, perhaps on the ballot. The general idea is to use an expansion of the Modified Business Tax (payroll tax) as a bridge to a more stable solution. Can they pull it off?


A measure that would raise $350 million dedicated to lower education funding through adjustments to the payroll tax, a severance tax on mining and a new admissions tax passes the Legislature on May 28.

Gov. Brian Sandoval waits as long as he can and vetoes the measure on June 2, saying, “Now is not the time to raises taxes.”

On June 3, the last day of the 77th session, lawmakers override the veto, with a handful of Republicans in each house joining the Democratic majorities. Shortly thereafter, teachers union officials call a news conference with business groups and announce they will back off the margins tax and fight to kill it at the ballot.

And they all go home, relatively happy.

This is the dream scenario – and not just for Democrats. As the business community – or at least some – and the gaming folks – or at least some – realize that the the margins tax on the ballot could pass unless the teachers are willing to euthanize it, many here in the capital are starting to talk about such an endgame scenario.

But is this the stuff of Grimm, or a grim reminder that some sort of ugly mishmash of taxes, cobbled together to reach a number and without regard to policy, likely will pass this session, as so often happens? Or is this unlikely to become even a fractured fairy tale, with the denouement being that partisanship will trump cooperation and the teachers will whistle a merry tune on their way to the ballot in 2014, with gobs of money spent against the margins tax and a chance – a chance – it passes anyhow.

All of this is percolating on Day 94 of Session ’13, as the long-awaited admissions tax finally appeared and discussions of a Democratic plan, inchoate for all these weeks, seem to be coming together. Or so they say.

The Democrats plan to announce their plan soon – and that’s good because all we have left in the session is soon, folks! It is an amalgam of taxes, with the payroll tax expanded, bumped up for mining, a possible severance tax on the industry and that admissions tax, which will raise – well, no one really knows how much. Yes, this is fully formed.

But beyond the opposition to the admissions tax from golfers who will whine and movie theater owners who will wail, among others, is the reality that the plan to raise more money for education is the equivalent of a quadruple bank shot in pool. To wit:

Bank Shot 1 Make a Robercall: Instead of the Democrats keeping state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson at arm’s length, they would need to bring him into the omnibus package deal and not worry about who ultimately gets credit. Therein lies the rub, perhaps. But without Roberson and some or all of his mining taxmen, the Democrats cannot pass a package through the state Senate. “The Fab Four,” as some call the no-tax members of Roberson’s caucus, will never sign on, even to deny their leader credit. They need the Dirty Half-Dozen, or some of them.

Bank Shot 2Count to 14/28: Passing the tax plan through both houses will require two-thirds, which means Republicans will need to steel themselves for what’s to come. That won’t be easy. And even if you get three in the Senate (assuming Democratic homogeneity), how many will you need in the Assembly? Peggy Pierce has been gone for more than a week with health problems related to her cancer. She was expected back Monday, but has yet to return. The Democrats need her and a Republican; without her, they need two. And that assumes they hold all of their caucus, which is no lock.

Bank Shot 3Turn down the sunshine: Based on his airtight anti-tax rhetoric, not counting Gov. Sunny’s sunset-exception, Brian Sandoval will veto the package. But what does he do next? Does he try to persuade weak Republicans that the override vote is not about the tax plan but about him? Or does he wink and nod and not campaign in the public domain to have his veto upheld? Trust me: Republicans who vote for taxes (twice) will need those assurances in advance.

Bank Shot 4 Make the teachers put their pet to sleep: Will the deal be sweet enough to sour the teachers union on the margins tax? I don’t see how business lobbyists give GOP lawmakers cover to vote for a tax package without the Nevada State Education Association pledging to join the campaign to kill the tax that has provided the leverage on the ballot driving this process now. And the teachers will not do so unless the revenue is earmarked for education. Note for relevancy: The admissions tax, the way it is written, dumps the money into the general fund, not dedicated to education. I’m not sure the union will agree that the usual mélange of taxes actually broadens the base, as their tax does, which also might be a sticking point.

Much more needs to occur, including gaming coming off the sidelines. The Nevada Resort Association hates the margins tax – or at least key members do, although the math may not show that the levy would hit them harder than a gross receipts tax that Steve Wynn has proposed, catalyzing repressed memories of the tax fight of 10 years ago. (I hear numbers are being run as I write.)

One other wild card (or cards): Can four rookie leaders show they are major league players when it comes to closing out the session, passing hundreds of bills and a tax plan? That’s who will be asked to line up this series of bank shots in the final days, one that would take perfect aim, speed and execution and one I’m not sure Minnesota Fats could pull off.

(Jackie Gleason in "The Hustler" as Minnesota Fats image from