Drama in the 2017 legislative session hit critical mass Thursday, after Senate Republicans voted against a bill that would have created a new tax on the sale of recreational cannabis. By killing the measure, lawmakers began a tit-for-tat domino effect that could possibly end in the governor calling a special legislative session. Reno Public Radio’s Paul Boger reports.
In mid-January, Republican Governor Brian Sandoval proposed a state budget that called for millions of dollars in new spending on education. To pay for it, he called for a tax on the state’s newest commodity, recreational pot.
“My budget includes one new source of revenue: a 10 percent excise tax on all retail sales of recreational marijuana. The proceeds of this tax will be invested exclusively in education.”
Now, nearly six months later, it appears that tax, along with some constitutionally-mandated spending bills, may no longer be on the table.
Here’s what happened.
Thursday afternoon, Senate Democrats brought forward SB487 – the pot tax. Democrats voted in favor of the measure, but since the bill would have created a new tax it required a two-thirds vote. With no Republican supporting the measure, it failed.
GOP Senator James Settlemeyer of Minden voiced his opposition.
“I could understand the concept of raising taxes on this substance, considering that it will bring a cost to the state of Nevada. I just disagree very intimately with the concept of where the money is going. The concept of ‘pot for tots,’ I can’t vote for.”
Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford admonished his counterparts before calling for a revote.
“As legislators, it is now incumbent on us to implement the voters’ will and ensure the success of the recreational marijuana industry. And that includes implementing a tax and regulatory structure that allows this new industry to flourish and will keep the promise of providing a new source of funding for public schools.”
But, much like the first go-round, the second vote failed setting off a chain reaction that may have serious consequences in the coming days. For starters, in retaliation, Democratic leaders held an impromptu committee hearing to introduce amendments killing a deal they had worked out with Republicans to fund the controversial Education Savings Accounts.
Upon hearing the news, Senate Republicans marched out of the chamber en masse, with leadership heading to the governor’s office to strategies.
After catching up with the group to find out what was happening only Republican Senator Pete Goicoechea of Eureka responded.
“We don’t know nothing,” he said.”
Democrats, however, moved forward with their legislative agenda, passing a multi-billion dollar K-12 budget for the next biennium without a single Republican member in the chamber.
That vote was followed by two others. One massive appropriations bill passed without any Republican support. The other required another two-thirds vote, and, again, without Republicans the bill died.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson explained that Republicans would continue to oppose budget bills until ESAs were back on the table.
“If Democrats in the legislature don’t want to come to the table in good faith and have this discussion, that is their prerogative. But let me make this absolutely clear: I will not vote for a final budget that does not include funding for ESAs. No ESA funding, no budget.”
And it wasn’t much different in the Assembly. Lower House Republicans continued the work of the Senate GOP opposing budget bills. Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson says the entire situation is unfortunate.
“Whatever happened on the Senate on the Senate Democrat side, or Republican, whichever it was, it blew the whole place up. I don’t have any insight into the Senate Democrat caucus and what turned it the direction it went, but it certainly didn’t turn out the way we expected.”
Speaker Jason Frierson, a Democrat from Las Vegas, says his caucus will continue to pass bills including a budget.
“We can’t overcome things that are significant hurdles on either side, then we just continue to work towards the areas that we can get done, and try to, you know, do our jobs.”
So you may be asking yourself, why does all this matter? Just partisan politics as usual, right?
Well, Republicans have stated since day one that they will vote against a state budget if ESAs are not funded. Also, there’s concern that with the budget being passed on party-line votes, Governor Sandoval could veto the budget.
If they are unable to come to some sort of a consensus by Monday, the last day of the session, the governor will be forced to call a special session. And that could cost taxpayers roughly $55,000 a day.