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October 21, 2014

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Roberson to unveil details of mining tax proposal

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Senators James Settlemeyer, left, and Michael Roberson talk at the conclusion of a Senate floor session Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 during the 2013 legislative session in Carson City.

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson is planning to unveil the details of a mining tax increase Wednesday that he hopes to get on the 2014 ballot as an alternative to the margins tax initiative.

In a letter sent to each senator Tuesday, Roberson invited Democrats and critical Republicans alike to provide input on the details of his proposed mining tax.

"It is my sincere hope that this legislation will be bipartisan in nature and that we put politics aside and collectively do what is right for the children of our state," Roberson wrote in the letter.

Last month, Roberson shocked lawmakers from both parties when he and five of his fellow Republican senators announced they would support a measure to take the mining industry's tax protections out of the constitution and ask voters to approve a new mining tax to help fund education. Roberson hoped to use the mining tax as an alternative to Initiative Petition 1, which seeks to impose a 2 percent tax on business revenue. The margins tax initiative, backed by the teachers union, will appear on the 2014 ballot.

Roberson's announcement fell flat, however, with no lawmakers outside of Roberson's "Gang of Six" Republicans backing the proposal.

Roberson also has encountered legal problems. Gov. Brian Sandoval's general counsel and Secretary of State Ross Miller issued legal opinions claiming lawmakers cannot put an alternative to the margins tax on the ballot because the Legislature failed to take a vote on Initiative Petition 1 within the required 40 days. Legislative lawyers dispute their opinion.

Lawmakers invited by Roberson to private briefings remained both skeptical and outright opposed to his effort.

"We don't do industry-specific taxes," said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, an early opponent of Roberson's effort. "I know he's using one of his emergency measures for this, but I don't know what the point is. Leadership isn't going to let it pass. It's not going to get a hearing."

While Democratic leaders in the Senate did not immediately reject Roberson's offer, the main sticking point between the two parties has been about timing.

Denis and Smith said they hope that a tax can pass this year to pay for education programs beginning in the 2013-14 school year. Roberson's mining tax proposal would be contingent on voter approval in Nov. 2014.

"I want a bipartisan proposal that happens this legislative session that produces more funding for this school year," said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Reno, who hadn't yet seen the letter that was sent to her office this afternoon.

"I'm not really amenable to doing an alternative," said Denis. "However, I want to be open, and I've committed to meeting with him," he said, noting he has an appointment with Roberson tomorrow.

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