After a dominant performance on Election Day, Nevada Republicans will finally get their chance to run the government when the Legislature officially convenes Monday.
But while they now control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s seat, the lead-up to the session has been anything but peaceful. Partisan bickering and a fierce fight over proposed tax increases promise to keep grabbing headlines.
Here are story lines to watch during Nevada’s 120-day legislative session.
BUSINESS TAX BATTLE
In his State of the State address, Sandoval proposed adding $1.1 billion in new and extended taxes over the next two years and applying most of the money to K-12 education.
But the plan, which calls for significant changes to the state’s business licensing fee, was greeted with uncertainty from the business community and harsh criticism from some legislative Republicans who say it would raise taxes against voters’ wills.
Under the proposed changes, a company’s business license fee would be determined by its revenue and where it falls among 30 industry categories. The fee would increase from a flat $200 a year and range from $400 annually to more than $4 million, though Sandoval said the majority of the state’s 330,000 businesses wouldn’t see their license fees grow much.
Nevada’s Constitution calls for a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature for any tax increase, which could prove difficult in a Republican-controlled Assembly with 17 new members.
Complicating matters is a rift between more moderate leadership and outspoken, anti-tax Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who was removed from her position as majority leader and taxation committee chair in December amid reports that the IRS had filed hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens against her in the past decade.
Fiore says she has at least 12 votes lined up against a tax increase, and she says she’s looking for another three to block Sandoval’s proposed budget.
K-12 FUNDING EXPANSION
Sandoval describes his tax measures as a necessary step to overhaul an outdated and chronically under-funded education system in Nevada.
He wants to increase spending for pre-kindergarten through high school by $782 million over two years. The money would expand full-day kindergarten to schools statewide and fund programs for gifted and talented students, children in poverty and students learning English.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle generally agree with Sandoval’s push for changes, but it’s unclear whether they’ll agree to fund it all.
Though no longer in the majority, Nevada Democrats have harshly criticized Republican plans to weaken collective bargaining laws.
Assembly Speaker-designate John Hambrick sent a letter to local governments promising substantive changes to the state’s collective bargaining rules to give municipalities more control over their budgets. The letter prompted union forces, including the Nevada AFL-CIO, to promise an unprecedented union presence during the legislative session.
Newly elected Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, has said she supports the idea of requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. With a Republican majority, a voter ID bill has a good chance of passing through the Legislature.
Democrats have long opposed the concept, saying it could disenfranchise poor and older voters who are less likely to have government identification.