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Attorney General declines to petition high court as budget negotiations continue at legislature

By ThisIsReno

by Elizabeth Crum, Nevada News Bureau: Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto will not follow through on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s request to ask the Nevada Supreme Court for clarification on Thursday’s ruling that the state cannot use $62 million it took from the Clean Water Coalition during the legislative special session in 2010.

A letter issued by Masto’s office said, “there is no procedural mechanism” for seeking a clarification of the high court’s decision.

The Nevada Rules of Appellate Procedure allow for a Petition for Rehearing, however the attorney general’s letter said, “no grounds exist” for such a motion.

Petitions for Rehearing are filed only in cases where the court has overlooked or misapprehended a material fact or when the court has overlooked, misapplied or failed to consider a statute or rule, the letter stated.

Sandoval, a former state attorney general, said he is “profoundly disappointed” in Masto’s decision and has “lost confidence” in her office, adviser and spokesman Dale Erquiaga said in statements Friday morning.

Masto responded with a statement later in the day saying she was “disappointed” that Sandoval chose “politicize” her legal advice.

“I understand the pressure the Governor is under to balance the state’s budget. I also recognize the fiscal crisis our state is in,” said Masto. “That’s why I am surprised the Governor chooses to create dissension between our offices rather than face the crisis at hand.”

The high court’s ruling raised questions about whether the governor’s proposed use of other sources of local money for state purposes are unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court decision … has far-reaching implications for how Nevada governors and legislatures will do business from this date forward,” Sandoval said in a statement Thursday.

Legislators had approved the funding shift in order to fill a budget gap, but broad applications of the high court’s ruling could mean the governor’s 2011-2012 budget is short by as much as $685 million.

As a result of the ruling, Sandoval must remove the $62 million from his budget. Gubernatorial legal advisers fear it may also mean the state cannot use another $247 million in school construction bond reserve money, $225 million in a voter-approved diversion of room taxes and roughly $83 million in property tax diversions.

In addition, an analysis done for a lobbying group and reported today in the Las Vegas Sun indicates the total monetary impact of the ruling could be over one billion dollars because of possibly questionable fund grabs in the current biennium’s budget.

It is unclear whether Sandoval will look for other ways to seek counsel or clarification on the court’s ruling, but limited time and options likely mean the key to sine die lies on the negotiating table.

Sandoval has said he will now agree to reauthorize at least some of the $679 million in taxes set to expire June 30, a position he previously eschewed.

Lawmakers are in negotiations over how to fund the governor’s budget. Trade-offs against the extension of some or all of the tax sunsets may include reforms to education, collective bargaining and public benefits.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, today said there is still no agreement on the size of the problem and that a final solution cannot be devised until all parties agree on the number.

Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, declined to speculate how close to an agreement lawmakers are on the budget and policy reforms, hinting that they are still far apart from a solution.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said today that current discussions include the possibility of putting a tax plan before voters that would go beyond extending the sunsets.

“I believe the voters should have a say in having a broad-based business tax that is fair and equitable and that that should be part of the discussions this legislature has as we finish all the rest of the budget discussions,” said Horsford.

“It’s been part of our talks from the very beginning of the session, and we are not backing off or stepping away from the need to reform our revenue code, which has not substantially changed since the 1950s, just like we agree that we need to have discussions on reform policy,” added Horsford.

Meetings between Sandoval and lawmakers of both parties continued today under pressure to reach an agreement on the budget with just nine days left until the legislative session is scheduled to end.

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Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says voters should have a say on reforming Nevada’s tax policy:

052811Horsford1 :17 the budget decisions.” 

Horsford says reforming the state’s revenue code has been part of the discussion since the beginning of the session:

052811Horsford2 :21 reform policies, so.”