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Bill capping scholarship tax credits is constitutional, court says

CARSON CITY — The state’s top court Thursday turned away a legal effort to restore funding for a private-school scholarship program state lawmakers curtailed in 2019, ruling that the cutback did not require the Legislature’s supermajority provision to enact.

The Supreme Court decision upholding a Clark County District Court judge’s earlier ruling was unanimous.

Lawmakers in 2015 created the Educational Choice Scholarship Program, which allowed businesses to donate toward private-school tuition for lower-income students in exchange for tax write-offs. In 2019, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 458, which ended the annual 10 percent increase in the program, freezing its allocation at the 2019 level of $6.7 million.

Legislation that raises taxes or increases government revenue requires a two-third’s majority in both houses to pass. Parents and a scholarship foundation sued on grounds that the bill freezing the funding required that majority because it allowed money that would otherwise go to tax breaks to flow into the state general fund.

The judges turned away that argument, finding that the total amount of government revenue did not change under the bill.

The 2019 bill “does not create, generate, or increase public revenue” but rather redirects a portion of taxes to the general fund, the court found. “Thus the supermajority provision does not apply, and A.B. 458 is constitutional.”

The high court in May ruled the other way in another lawsuit, finding that a revenue bill passed in 2019 that extended existing taxes did require the supermajority, because without the law, the state would have received less money. The state was forced to repay taxes and fees it had collected.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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