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August 4, 2015

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Politics:

Nevada teachers hesitant to sign onto $1 billion business-tax initiative

An initiative aimed at raising $1 billion for schools is in peril after the state’s teachers union said Wednesday that it won’t sign off on the latest version of the tax on business profits being proposed by the state’s largest labor union.

With gaming, mining and the business community also watching from the sidelines, teachers’ reluctance to get behind the proposal is an ominous sign for the AFL-CIO-led effort to raise revenue for the state.

“We have some concern regarding language,” Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said of the proposed ballot initiative. “As of now, we’re not signed on.”

Warne said she supports in concept the effort by AFL-CIO head Danny Thompson to raise money for schools. But her position highlights growing uncertainty about the fate of the tax effort.

“There was a deadlocked certainty there’d be an initiative two or three months ago,” said one political operative. “Now, not so much.”

Thompson could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But during a taping of “To the Point with Anjeanette Damon,” set to air Saturday on KSNV, Channel 3, Thompson said he was moving forward with the effort.

Thompson said AFL-CIO members could collect the 73,000 signatures needed to qualify the initiative petition for the ballot.

He explained the labor group’s lack of partners in the effort this way: “Anyone saying ‘I want to raise taxes,’ I don’t think anyone in business wants to come out on TV and say” that.

After the 2011 session, pro-tax forces appeared motivated to put a tax initiative to a vote of the people. Gaming and mining companies helped pay for polling to test the viability of a ballot question.

But a coalition, which once seemed destined to include gaming companies, mining interests and other large employers beyond those industries, has yet to form.

Proponents have until November to collect signatures. If the petition is filed with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, it will inevitably face court challenges.

Representatives of the gaming and mining industries, which are both being targeted with industry-specific tax initiatives authored by a conservative businessman, would not comment for this story.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s announcement last month that he would support extending $620 million in taxes set to expire in 2013 appears to have dulled the sense of urgency behind the tax-related ballot initiatives.

The teachers union’s unwillingness so far to sign on to the AFL-CIO initiative presents two significant problems for the effort to get the tax passed. First, teachers are among the most visible, sympathetic faces of government services. Second, and most important at this stage, the teachers union has a reserve of cash that could be used to gather signatures.

If proponents of the initiative collect signatures, it would first go to the Legislature, which would have 40 days to pass it. If the measure doesn’t pass, it would be placed before voters in 2014.

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