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July 27, 2016

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AFL-CIO vows to go it alone on $1 billion business tax initiative

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Danny Thompson

The AFL-CIO will go it alone in its effort to pass a $1 billion business-profits tax, the head of the state’s largest labor organization said Monday.

After months of talks, teachers, gaming, mining and other Nevada power players are unwilling to join the initiative campaign, but AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson said that won’t doom the proposal to increase funding for education.

“We’re going to do this with or without the teachers,” Thompson said. “We’re going to do this with or without anyone.”

The labor organization’s vow to pursue the tax proposal follows the Nevada State Education Association saying last week that it would not spend money to collect the almost 73,000 signatures needed to qualify the petition.

Thompson and other labor and business leaders have been discussing a petition for a business tax for about a year. Because of the initiative’s call for greater education spending, the state teachers union would be an obvious ally in the campaign.

Thompson said the proposal would earmark money for “education,” including universities and colleges, not just K-12 schools. The teachers union wanted the money to be set aside for primary education only, but that was not the sticking point, teachers union officials said.

Rather, the attorney for the teachers union had concerns that language in the petition makes it vulnerable to a court challenge, meaning it could be thrown out by a judge after the groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect signatures.

“We don’t want to potentially spend that time and money to have a court declare it invalid on its face,” said Jim Penrose, an attorney consulting for the Nevada State Education Association. Penrose declined to be more specific about his concerns, saying to do so would provide a “roadmap” to opponents.

Thompson said of the initiative’s language: “You can’t make these things perfect. At the end of the day, anyone can challenge anything. If you try to make these things perfect, there’s no such thing.”

The gaming and mining industries, which have for the past decade been the state’s biggest supporters of efforts to impose a broad-based business tax, have remained silent on the AFL-CIO proposal.

A conservative businessman, Monte Miller, has filed initiatives that would raise the taxes on mining and gaming, saying he would be willing to drop his initiatives if those industries don’t support the AFL-CIO tax proposal.

In 2008, the teachers' ballot advocacy group paid $2 to $3 a signature to qualify a room-tax increase, according to documents filed with the Nevada secretary of state. In total, it spent $800,000 on the campaign for the initiative, which passed the 2009 Legislature.

Thompson said he would have no problem collecting the signatures needed to qualify his ballot initiative.

“I can get the signatures internally,” he said. “I can go to the unions. I don’t even need to go out to the streets.”

Thompson wouldn’t disclose how many members unions affiliated with the state’s AFL-CIO have but noted that the Culinary alone has 65,000 members.

Thompson said despite rumors to the contrary, his organization has money to support an initiative campaign. He declined to reveal how much money the organization has.

“We have money,” he said. “We’re just not giving it away to candidates.”

Under the process being used by the AFL-CIO, the Legislature would consider the initiative in 2013; if it doesn’t pass it within 40 days, the proposed law would go to voters in 2014.

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