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Margins tax advocates going after voters 17 months ahead of election

Updated Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | 6:09 p.m.

The campaign to pass a 2 percent business tax on the 2014 ballot begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Supporters of the ballot measure will launch a website to roll out the campaign about 17 months before the Nov. 4, 2014, election, said political strategist Dan Hart, who is leading the Education Initiative campaign to pass the tax.

“It’ll be a long, expensive campaign,” Hart said, noting that opponents are ready to spend millions of dollars to persuade voters to reject the ballot question.

Supporters of the 2 percent tax on business revenue say it will inject about $800 million into the state’s coffers to help improve Nevada’s education system and better serve children.

Acknowledging that business groups and monied interests intend to fervently oppose the tax, Hart said he and supporters in teachers and labor unions are launching their campaign untraditionally early in an attempt to reach as many voters as possible.

“Our task is to identify voters and potential voters and create a running dialog with them, to make it into a cause and get them to the polls,” Hart said. “Ours is going to be a methodical communication campaign.”

Hart said the Education Initiative political action committee, the fundraising arm of the campaign, will also begin working in earnest to more actively collect contributions following the campaign's launch Wednesday.

It was originally the state teachers union, the Nevada State Education Association, that gathered the signatures to put the tax question before voters, but they’re not the only supporters. The campaign will also try to recruit allies, including progressive and community groups, that can help promote, organize and drive voters to the polls next November.

The goal of the effort is to reach at least 100,000 voters, Hart said.

Meanwhile, the ballot measure has faced criticism, especially from business groups and Republican lawmakers who have called it a job-killing tax that will harm an economy that’s still recovering from the recession.

For months, individuals and groups with lots of money and political clout have been lining up to oppose the tax.

Opponents include Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is also on the ballot in 2014, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands Corp., and various trade groups representing retailers, bankers, manufacturers, auto dealers, truckers, builders and contractors. Most of these groups are represented under a political group called the Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs.

Calling the ballot question complex and burdensome for small businesses, committee spokesman Bryan Wachter said Hart and the teachers union have a lot of explaining to do to the community.

“They have an uphill climb, and I kind of see that as the reason why they’d want to start 17 months before an election,” Wachter said. “That’s going to be a large part of their battle, explaining what the tax is and why it’s valid.”

Hart said groups like the Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs will likely outspend supporters of the ballot measure.

“We are underdogs here, absolutely, in this race because of how well funded our opposition will be,” he said.

But with the election still 17 months ahead, a lot about both sides of the campaign is still unknown.

It remains to be seen how avidly Sandoval’s re-election campaign will try to defeat the ballot measure and to what extent Democratic candidates will embrace it.

In a year without the president or a U.S. senator on the ballot, the margins tax also has the potential to become the defining issue of the election.

“This is going to be the big race,” Hart said.

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