Lawmakers hope to return Monday to finish the job

Legislative leaders emerged from more than 7 hours of closed door talks Saturday saying they may have a deal to end the tax-budget battle.

They refused to give reporters any details of the taxes that make up the deal or the total dollars, saying each party in each house must take the issue back to their caucus members on Sunday.

But they were confident enough to call the other members of the Assembly and Senate back to Carson City on Monday for a vote on the plan.

"We have made very significant progress toward a compromise in which all the interests have been addressed," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

He, Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, and Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, all said they were "cautiously optimistic" they have worked out something that will be supported by at least two-thirds of each house.

"We're tentatively suggesting members of the Legislature return for a possible session on Monday at noon," said Raggio.

But he made it clear they won't convene and vote again unless they have a deal. And whether they have a deal depends on how the different caucuses react.

"We've done enough of the other," he said referring to several failed votes for different plans in both houses. "I think we all want to be very certain."

To minimize outside pressure, lobbyists and other interest groups were barred from the building while the group of about a dozen lawmakers met in the Senate majority leader's conference room. Business lobbyists trying to prevent a heavy tax from being imposed on them have been battling gaming lobbyists, who have been trying to minimize their own tax impact throughout most of the session. Some lawmakers have blamed them for the impasse.

It would take tax increases totaling about $860 million over the biennium to fully fund the state and public education budgets. Hettrick's caucus wants that total cut back and the gross receipts tax on business removed from the plan. Assembly Democrats say growing needs justify the total budget and that a gross receipts tax is fairer than the payroll tax.

Titus, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Raggio, a Reno lawyer, both emphasized the importance of reclaiming control over the decision from the Nevada Supreme Court. Gov. Kenny Guinn filed a petition for a writ of mandamus ordering lawmakers to resolve the budget battle this past week. Raggio said that opens the door for the court to do "great damage" to the separation of powers.

Titus made the same point Saturday.

"I think the one thing we all agree on is it would be much better if we come to some conclusion rather than leave it to the court," she said.

Both were concerned that the court appeared to broaden the issues up for debate in its briefing order, even mentioning the tension between the two-thirds majority required to raise taxes and the simple majority required to approve spending.

Raggio said if lawmakers reach a deal and approve it, that the vote should render the petition before the Supreme Court moot.

No one would say what the deal looks like.

"We don't want it to break apart in any aspect," Raggio said.

Hettrick, one of the 15 Assembly members who has stood fast to block the proposed tax package, refused to say whether he would eventually support the proposal. He said he, like the others, would poll his members Sunday to gauge their support but added that he also is more optimistic it will find the necessary support than he has been for earlier compromise plans.

"I will share Bill's cautious optimism," said Perkins, joining the others. "But it's very difficult at this point to get very optimistic."


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