Thursday, May 23, 2013 | 2:03 p.m.
The Assembly today approved a resolution that will allow voters to decide on the 2014 ballot whether or not the mining industry’s tax rate should be in the state constitution.
Legislators say removal of the constitutional rate will allow them to impose higher taxes on gold and silver mines. While mining industry lawyers have opposed the measure, they argue the silver lining is that removal of the constitutional provision will result in a tax break for the industry.
By passing Senate Joint Resolution 15 in a partisan 26-15 vote, the Assembly completed a two-year process in which the Legislature heard strong support for the bill from Southern Nevadans and opposition from the mining industry and rural legislators.
Democrats voted for the measure and Republicans opposed it.
Proponents of the measure have long argued that the industry is not paying its fair share into state coffers, and the constitutional tax rate unnecessarily prohibits the Legislature from determining how mining should be taxed.
Opponents said allowing voters to remove the constitutional provision would endanger the industry by introducing more risk and reducing hiring for high-paying mining jobs. They argued the industry may decide to leave the state due to higher taxes.
The mining industry expressed disappointment with the vote.
"Passage of SJR15 will lead to significantly less state revenue to fund essential services and potentially disrupt revenue streams in rural mining counties as well," said Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association.
Assemblyman Skip Daly, D-Reno, mocked those assertions, saying the industry is profitable and will stay in Nevada even without constitutional protections.
“Mining will continue,” he said. “They’re not going to tunnel in from Utah.”
Opponents said the constitutional provision ensures security and removing it subjects the state to an uncertain mining taxation regime for which mining industry and legislative lawyers have issued conflicting opinions.
“As we all know, ask the opinion of three lawyers and you’ll get three different opinions,” said Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden.
The measure passed the state Senate 17-4 in April with several urban Republicans joining the Senate’s 11 Democrats to approve the resolution.
The resolution already passed the Legislature during the 2011 session.
It takes passage during two consecutive legislative sessions plus a subsequent majority vote of the people to amend the state constitution.
The governor is not involved in the process.
Voters in 2014 basically have the chance to undo what Nevada voters did in 1989, when they approved a constitutional amendment that sets the net proceeds tax on minerals not to exceed 5 percent.
No other tax may be imposed upon a mineral or its proceeds under that amendment.
Counties and the state split the collections from the 5 percent rate with the county imposing its property tax rate on mines in the county and the state keeping the difference.
The 2015 Legislature would likely change the mining tax structure if voters approve the removal of the constitutional tax rate at the ballot in 2014.