A debate over education funding turned bitter on the Nevada Senate floor Tuesday when Democrats accused Republicans of not wanting to compromise on taxes and the GOP minority leader chastised the majority, claiming failed leadership.
The finger-pointing during a 90-minute session began when Democratic Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, announced he had canceled a hearing on a proposal to raise payroll taxes and conceded that without GOP support, Democrats lacked votes for passage to raise taxes.
“We are failing our children, kicking the can down the road,” Denis said, at times emotional. “Once again we have put our partisanship over policies that can help today.”
Denis announced his plan last week. It was met with swift criticism from Senate GOP Minority Leader Michael Roberson, who declared it dead on arrival, and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who said he would veto it.
Early in the session Democrats identified an education agenda $300 million above what Sandoval proposed in his $6.5 billion general fund budget. The governor has since added more money based on revenue projections, but Democrats argue it’s not enough given the $700 million cut from public schools during the recession.
“I’m sick and tired of seeing Nevada at the bottom of all the good lists and at the top of all the bad lists,” said Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee. “I’m sick and tired of seeing us having one of the lowest percentages of high school graduation rates.”
“We are not where we need to be to adequately fund education in this state,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks. “I am sorry we are going to go home without a real discussion.”
Republicans rallied in their support for Sandoval, saying his budget includes $50 million for English-language-learner programs and nearly $40 million to reduce class sizes.
“I just can’t believe we aren’t praising the governor, who, for the first time, has gone from zero to $50 million in ELL funding,” said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas.
Roberson, R-Henderson, accused Denis and Democrats of failed leadership.
“People outside this building and throughout this state know who has led and who hasn’t led,” he said. “This is not leadership. This is making yourself feel better.”
Roberson and five other Senate Republicans have proposed raising taxes paid by Nevada’s gold and silver mines to 10 percent. They want to ask residents to vote in 2014 on raising the tax — a measure that would compete with a 2 percent business tax already headed for the ballot. But the GOP plan would be contingent on voters also approving an amendment to remove mining’s constitutional tax protections.
Roberson’s bill has not had a hearing, and Democrats counter the plan does nothing to help schools now.
With less than two weeks to go before the session adjourns June 3, time is running out and any hopes of a bipartisan agreement appear slim to none.
“The problem we have is the clock runs out,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said he’s proud of the strides Nevada has made and the priorities set by the governor.
Though time is short, Sen. Justin Jones is not throwing in the towel.
“Now that we’ve got this off our chests, let’s get to work and get something done,” the Las Vegas Democrat said. “I’m not satisfied and I’m not done here.”