CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — In a state that produces more gold than all but four countries, lawmakers voted to reform how the state taxes the mining industry, passing a measure that will effectively double the amount of taxes imposed on silver and gold mines.
After tumultuous negotiations involving lawmakers, mining lobbyists and the state's largest teacher's union, the Nevada Senate and Assembly on Monday approved a proposal to impose an additional tax on mines that gross more than $20 million annually. After lawmakers approve the last amendments, the bill will head to Gov. Steve Sisolak for final approval.
“I believe that this bill represents a monumental compromise and collaboration that’ll not only benefit Nevadans now but also for years to come,” said Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, a Las Vegas Democrat.
The bill will preserve the state's Net Proceeds on Minerals tax structure, which requires mining businesses be taxed at less than 5% of what are called net proceeds — profit minus deductions for certain costs. It will add an excise tax of 0.75% on mines that report gross revenue of $20 million to $150 million and 1.1% on mines that report any higher.
It contains requirements that the revenue be directed to schools. Revenue from the net proceeds tax, which topped $61 million in 2019, will be directed to a new education fund. The tax on gross revenue is projected to generate an estimated $85 million in tax revenue annually, but the figure could fluctuate with the value of silver and gold.
The bill received unanimous support from Democrats and votes from four Senate and two Assembly Republicans, who were swayed after Democrats agreed to boost funding charters and other programs outside of traditional public schools.
"I’m so proud today of bipartisan efforts to come together and to partner with mining, to be able to take this historic step to create dedicated and sustainable funding directly dedicated to education," said Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles.
“Hallelujah," she added.
The majority of Republicans voted against the measure, arguing that it was unnecessary to raise taxes with billions of federal coronavirus relief dollars on the way.
"If the majority wants to support a destructive tax increase when we’re already receiving billions of new money from the federal government and when our economy is still recovering from the governor's shut down, then let them own it and let them own it alone," said Republican Assemblyman Andy Matthews.
In addition to the new revenue, Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita said the creation of a separate account outside of the state general fund helps ensure education is well-funded.
“This is the first time that dedicated revenue goes directly into K-12,” he said.
Mines have been taxed based on the net proceeds of minerals they extract since Nevada was founded more than a century and a half ago.
As cities like Las Vegas and Reno have grown in population, the mining tax issue has inflamed the state's rural-urban divides. Lawmakers from rural areas, all of whom are Republicans, say the industry is the lifeblood of their districts' economies, providing well-paying jobs and attracting workers who spend money needed to sustain local businesses. Democrats argue that tax reform is needed to fund education. Nevada ranks 44th in per-pupil spending.
Last summer, after the pandemic forced state lawmakers to make budget cuts, the Legislature considered raising taxes on mining. But because Nevada requires two-thirds approval in both the Senate and Assembly to pass a tax increase, the effort fell short in the Democratic-majority Statehouse after no Republicans supported it.
Democratic lawmakers later decided to take the first step toward advancing three mining tax proposals to the 2022 ballot. Lawmakers can send tax proposals to voters if they pass resolutions in two back-to-back legislative sessions and, with simple majorities, Democrats passed three resolutions that would raise $147 million to $607 million in annual revenue.
The Clark County Education Association subsequently gathered enough signatures to qualify two ballot initiatives for the 2022 election, which proposed raising sales and gambling taxes. Democrats and the state's powerful casino industry didn't want the measures on the ballot and Vellardita, the union’s executive director, said he would consider retracting them if lawmakers prioritized education funding.
On Monday, Vellardita said the advocacy of union members and teachers helped push the mining tax across the finish line. He said he intended to withdraw the initiatives from the ballot as promised, but said they were partially responsible for the mining tax's passage.
“I think if it wasn’t there, we might have had a different outcome. In fact, I know we would have,” he said.
The state Senate added an amendment to a voting bill on Monday to give the union the power to withdraw the initiatives.
This story has been corrected to show four Republicans in the Nevada Senate voted for a mining tax increase, not three.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.