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July 29, 2015

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Six Republicans propose doubling Nevada’s mining tax

Six Senate Republicans today unveiled their plan to double the net proceeds on minerals tax, a proposal, that if approved by voters, could net an estimated $600 million that would be earmarked for education.

The plan is deeply divisive with four Republicans in Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson's own caucus, as well as Assembly Republicans and Gov. Brian Sandoval, opposing it. The Nevada mining industry is also vehemently opposed to an industry-specific tax and has accused Roberson of seeking a punitive tax to hurt state mines.

Dubbed the Education Priority Initiative, Roberson's proposal would earmark money to hire more teachers for class-size reduction, develop new English language learner programs, and establish an education stabilization fund. It would impose a 10 percent net proceeds tax-- double the current 5 percent rate-- and would continue to funnel the same mining tax revenue to local governments collecting it now.

"We believe Nevada's children deserve a first-class education," Roberson said in a written release.

Roberson hopes to put the mining tax question before voters on the 2014 ballot, which will also contain a margins tax question to impose a 2 percent tax on business revenue. Legal questions remain as to whether lawmakers can put a competing measure on the ballot.

Voters also would have to approve Senate Joint Resolution 15, a measure still pending in the Assembly, which would remove the mining industry's tax protections from the constitution.

Roberson shocked most lawmakers and the governor last month, when he and five GOP senators-- Ben Kieckhefer, of Reno; Joe Hardy, of Boulder City; Greg Brower, of Reno; Scott Hammond, of Las Vegas; and Mark Hutchison, of Las Vegas-- unveiled their support for SJR 15, and a competing mining tax hike.

Democrats initially groaned, largely standing by as their political foe captured the momentum on the issue their own party had carried last session. Democratic lawmakers continue to support SJR 15 to take the mining tax out of the constitution.

In an effort to seek some input from his fellow lawmakers, Roberson sent a letter to Democrats and Republicans mere hours before unveiling his proposal asking them to help him craft the details of it.

But while Democrats largely support an increased tax on mining, they oppose putting the mining tax up as an alternative to the margins tax, which is supported by the state teachers union.

"I'm not really amenable to doing an alternative," said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. "However, I want to be open, and I've committed to meeting with him."

And some Republicans remain outright hostile to Roberson's plan.

"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."

This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Sandoval’s name.

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