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Sen. Michael Roberson

BY LEE HERNANDEZ -- Why should Nevadans vote to raise taxes on the state’s mining industry? Because it’s the right thing to do, says state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson.

Details of a $600 million dollar plan to raise taxes on the state mining system were unveiled today. The proposal, backed by Roberson and a few of his GOP colleagues, would raise the percentage mining is taxed on net proceeds from 5 percent to 10 percent. The proposal would be an alternative to the business margins tax backed by the state teachers union.

Roberson says the money would directly fund class size reduction and English Language Learner programs and create and education stabilization fund.

“In Clark County we have some of the highest class sizes in the country. We have to do something about that,” Roberson said in an interview on State of Nevada. “The Clark County School District and the Clark County teachers association came out with a plan to reduce class sizes by hiring approximately 4000 teachers over the next four years. We intend to pay for that plan with this.”

Roberson also wants to dramatically increase funding for English Language Learner programs. “Right now we have 77,000 students, 52,000 in Clark County, who are sitting in classrooms and they can’t understand their teacher because they can’t speak English," says Roberson. "We have to fix that.”

Support comes from

The third part of the plan would create an education stabilization fund for schools. “We know the economy goes up and down, the price of gold goes up and down. We want a stable stream of revenue for education long term,” Roberson said. 

Roberson’s plan not embraced by all

Sen. Roberson wrote in a press release that his plan has support from Republican senators Kieckhefer, Hardy, Brower, Hammond and Hutchison. However, the Las Vegas Sun reported that Democrats and some of Roberson’s Republican colleagues have not jumped on board.

Las Vegas Sun Senior Politics Editor Anjeanette Damon first reported this story and quoted Democratic Sen. Debbie Smith who said she wants a plan that produces more funding for this year. 

Roberson said he has yet to hear an alternative proposal from his Democratic colleagues. “The Democrats control both houses of the legislature and I’ve been asking all session what is your plan? And all I’m hearing is crickets.”

“If I could do what I’m doing now with regard to the mining industry I would do so, but because mining has been singled out for protection in the constitution, we have to go through a process. We have to put this at the ballot in 2014, so tomorrow is going to be here very quickly,” Roberson said.

The plan also faces opposition from rural lawmakers like Sen. Pete Goicoechea who said he does not support raising taxes on mining. 

“He understands why we’re doing this, he has his own constituency to represent and I respect his perspective on this, but I’m looking out for I think the entire state of Nevada, but certainly Clark County and southern Nevada, and this is the right thing to do,” Roberson said.

The role of the voter and legal challenges

Sen. Roberson’s proposal would only go into effect if voters approve SJR 15, which removes the mining industry’s constitutional protection. That hasn’t deterred Roberson. He said he is confident voters will approve new taxes on mining.

“I’ve knocked on doors and I’ve heard countless constituents talk about why mining is singled out in the constitution, why they pay a third of what gaming pays,” Roberson said. “They need to contribute in a more substantial way to the state of Nevada. They get a lot of benefit out of this state, they take non-renewable resources out of this state that never come back, they can and should contribute more to the education of our children.”

The Secretary of State office also weighed in on the issue saying the mining tax could not make it to the ballot because legislators failed to take action on the business margins tax backed by the state teacher's union

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KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada