Nevada's Supreme Court decision vacating the state's requirement of a two-thirds vote in the legislature for any tax increase had no practical effect on budget negotiations this year. But the ruling could have an impact on future tax increases in the state--or any of the 14 other states that have supermajority requirements.
"That is the big question--will other states use the Nevada decision as a springboard to challenge supermajority requirements in their states, too?" says Corina Eckl, head of the fiscal affairs program at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "I think that's entirely possible."
Nevada voters added the requirement to the state constitution by initiative in 1986. Nevertheless, the court ruled in July that the new requirement was superceded by another one that requires funding for education. Federal district judges refused to hear appeals, arguing that the state court was the final arbiter in interpreting the state constitution.
The point became moot when Nevada legislators subsequently passed an $836 million tax increase by a two-thirds vote. The Nevada court said that its ruling applied only to that particular special legislative session. But policy makers in Nevada and elsewhere wondered whether it could set a precedent for future tax increases. California Governor Gray Davis, for example, immediately set about exploring the possibility the ruling could help him raise taxes without meeting that state's supermajority requirement.
"I'm afraid that people in the future will try to pass a tax increase and try to rely on that decision," says Dan Polsenberg, an attorney who represents 20 Republican state legislators who have petitioned the court to withdraw its own ruling. "That's what we're saying--since it did pass by two thirds, let's get this decision off the books so nobody can be tempted by it in the future."