CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Six Republican senators announced a plan Wednesday to tax Nevada's gold and silver mine operators to raise money for education.
The group led by Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, said they will push a 10 percent tax on gold and silver mining revenue as an alternative to a 2 percent business tax that will be on the 2014 ballot.
Senate Republicans said the plan would raise $600 million during the two-year budget cycle to be used for reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers, developing more English language learner programs and for establishing an "education stabilization fund."
"We embrace this plan and more fundamentally, we will fund the plan with the passage of the Education Priority Initiative," Roberson said in a statement.
The name shouldn't — but likely will — be confused with the Education Initiative, a measure that was spurred by the state teachers' union and other labor groups who collected more than 150,000 signatures last year to send the 2 percent margins tax plan to this year's Legislature.
That proposal is already headed to the 2014 ballot after lawmakers failed to act on it within the first 40 days of the session, as required under state law.
Republicans are against the teachers' tax plan, calling it a "job killing" tax. Other GOP senators behind the mining tax push are Ben Kieckhefer and Greg Brower of Reno; Joe Hardy, Boulder City; and Scott Hammond and Mark Hutchison of Las Vegas.
Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said he didn't yet know details of the Republican package.
"I continue to say that we have to look at everything if we're going to come up with a solution that works for Nevada," he said Wednesday, adding that he's willing to look at the Republican proposal.
But he said putting something on the ballot next year doesn't help schools now.
"If it's good enough to send to voters, then why don't we just do our job and do it today," Denis said.
Democrats, who have outlined an education agenda carrying a projected price tag of $300 million, have not unveiled their ideas for reforming Nevada's tax structure or closing loopholes to bring in more revenue. One idea being floated is an admissions tax to replace Nevada's live entertainment tax that is riddled with exemptions for large events like NASCAR races and outdoor concerts.
But there's more than one hitch to the new proposal hatched by Senate Republicans.
For one, it would be contingent on voters approving SJR15, a proposed amendment passed during the 2011 session to repeal mining tax protections in the state constitution. That measure this year has cleared the Senate and still awaits approval in the Assembly before advancing to next year's ballot.
Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, has said the mining industry has always been committed to discussing long-term solutions to the state's revenue problem. He calls the targeting of a single industry "short-sighted."
There's also the legal question of whether lawmakers have the ability to put an alternative tax question on the ballot.
Legislators didn't actually "reject" the teachers' tax measure. Instead, they took no action, allowing it to automatically go to voters.
So, does doing nothing constitute "rejection," thereby giving lawmakers authority to propose an alternative ballot question? The secretary of state, attorney general and governor's staff say no. But a top lawyer for the Legislature says yes.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican midway through his first term, has said he's opposed to the Senate blueprint to target mining. Assembly Republicans oppose it, too.
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