A major bill, aimed at earmarking around $ 500 million in mining revenue and federal aid for public education and avoiding politically perilous questions in the 2022 poll, began its race against legislative time on Sunday evening with a broad coalition of mining interests, progressive lawyers and the Clark County Teachers Union on board.
The law project, AB495, was heard at a joint Senate-Assembly budget meeting on Sunday night ahead of a crucial legislative period – the 120-day session ends at midnight Monday, and the bill has yet to clear the Assembly and Senate with a vote by a two-thirds majority, requiring at least some Republican membership. The bill was passed by the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee on Sunday evening in an online party vote.
The bill is more than just a tax increase. In addition to creating a new excise tax on total gold and silver mining revenues above $ 20 million – a provision expected to bring in between $ 150 million and $ 170 million in the biennium – the bill redirects existing mining taxes to education only. It also allocates $ 200 million in federal funds to fight learning loss, makes changes to Medicaid, and restores funding for a private school scholarship program backed by private donations made in exchange for academic credits. ‘tax.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) presented the bill as the product of a compromise between competing interests, saying many provisions had left those involved “holding their noses and nodding his head â.
“It is, I believe, a reflection of a collaboration that in my career has rarely been seen,” said Frierson.
Nevada Mining Association president Tire Gray introduced the bill alongside Frierson, and a representative from the mining industry’s biggest player – Nevada Gold Mines – also testified in favor.
âMining is a willing payer to achieve these goals,â Gray said. âWhile mining alone cannot solve the structural fiscal and funding problems of the state of Nevada, it is in our DNA to be first at the table and to be part of the solution.â
Clark County Education Association executive director John Vellardita was also at the table, whose presence has implied electoral implications. Frierson said passage of the bill would prevent lawmakers from pushing forward any of the three proposed constitutional amendments on the mining sector approved in the 2020 special session, and the teachers’ union should withdraw its ballot petitions. 2022 to increase taxes on gambling and sales if the legislation is passed. .
Vellardita said earlier this spring that the union was not “married” to his voting measures and would adopt an alternative if “it meets what we think needs to be done”, although he did not give a number at that time. During the hearing, Vellardita spoke of her union’s efforts to “force a conversation about investing” and hailed the bill as a historic investment in core per student funding.
âI think the most important thing that comes out of this bill is a dedicated stream of funding for Kindergarten to Grade 12. Is it sufficient? No, but it’s a start, âVellardita said at the hearing.
The new tax envisaged by the bill is an excise tax levied on the gross revenues of the state’s gold and silver mines. The rates would be set at 0.75 percent on income over $ 20 million and up to $ 150 million per year, and at a rate of 1.1 percent on any income over $ 150 million.
The bill also allows for deductions – including for proceeds from federal lands that are also a military base – and establishes a calculation to determine gross receipts, similar in structure to that related to the Nevada trade tax. (a levy on annual revenues of $ 4 million approved in 2015).
As part of a diversion of an existing tax revenue stream, the bill directs money from the net mineral tax proceeds to the state education fund rather than the general fund. Vellardita acknowledged that it was possible that lawmakers could use mining money to supplant existing general fund contributions to education, but said lawmakers would be pressured not to do so from voters who expect significant improvement in schools.
And in a likely nod to needed Republican support, the bill will also add $ 4.745 million in tax credits for the Scholarship program, which offers tuition scholarships in private schools to eligible low-income children, but is fiercely opposed by many progressive groups who see it as a drain on traditional public school money. The program, which serves just over 1,000 students, was severely curtailed in the 2019 legislature and closed to new enrollees – Frierson at the time said a 10% annual growth factor built into the program would quickly reach levels that are “ simply unbearable ”.
At Sunday’s hearing, Frierson said the number of students in the program had “dropped much faster than I think we expected last semester, and so we are now within the parameters of this program. . He called the bill not to expand the program, but to maintain 2019 levels.
The legislation would also task the School Funding Commission to explore new options for public education revenues. A commission report released last month suggested sales tax and property tax as the best mechanisms, but Frierson opposes the sales tax change, and he said he didn’t want to “presuppose Â»What the committee could recommend on the basis of directive AB495.
âThis bill is the start of a conversation and we are not going to stop calling for stable funding for education in this state,â Frierson said.
In the meantime, the bill also calls for the allocation of $ 200 million in federal COVID relief funds for COVID-related learning loss programs for school districts, including tutoring, education programs. summer, extended learning and enrichment programs and support for at-risk students. The bill includes charter schools as a potential recipient of the funds, but Frierson said they would be removed in an amendment.
Another planned amendment to the bill will also direct the commission to explore the issue of school board composition – a topic Frierson and other lawmakers have championed in efforts to appoint more school board members.
In addition, the bill allocates $ 600,000 per year to the Silver State Opportunity Grant Program – the financial assistance program based on needs and supported by the State. This allocation would bring funding back to the levels approved in 2019.
Another section would include aspects of Senate Republican Minority Leader James Settelmeyer legislation authorizing Medicaid reimbursement for personal care services. Frierson said the language was “something that I think collectively, people thought it was worth being a part of this package.”
Progressive supporters of the bill have stressed the need to fund education in Nevada, hailing the measure as a necessary step to help students succeed, but lamented that lawmakers did not consider AJR1, proposed during the extraordinary session.
“Although we maintain that the AJR1 of the 32nd Special Session would have been the ideal solution to increase the revenues of this session,” said PLAN lobbyist Christine Saunders. “This deal is a start to tackle mining’s privileged position so far in the Nevada tax code.”
Amanda Hilton, the general manager of the Robinson Nevada mine, a copper mine operated in White Pine County, choked on testimony in support of the measure. She said the bill will not only improve industry investment in education, but also protect the economic vitality of eastern Nevada.
âI am sitting here before you today to represent the 600 miners of Robinson and my community in White Pine County,â said Hilton. “This legislation will allow our miners to work as part of the economic engine of our community.”
Brian Mason, the vice president of the Shoshone-Paiute tribe, was the only one calling in the opposition. He said he was “disappointed” that tribes were not included in the discussion and that state dollars should be allocated to help “poverty-stricken” reserve communities. The Nevada Republican Party too submitted a letter of objection.
If the measure does not move forward, the electoral consequences will be felt in the 2022 poll. Frierson has vowed to advance one of the proposed mining tax resolutions if the deal fails, and Vellardita said after the hearing that the teachers’ union was prepared to spend up to $ 10 million in the 2022 cycle to try to push through the gambling and sales tax initiatives. – estimated at one point to raise a total of $ 1.4 billion.
Vellardita said he was optimistic about the chances of the bill – saying it represented significant compromises from all sides, while noting that the union’s initial request for funding from the mining industry was closer to $ 400 million. dollars during the biennium. Despite this, he said the potential for things to go haywire in the final hours of the session remained high.
âShit falls, it’s everyone’s game,â he said in an interview. âEveryone who is potentially the deciding vote has a self-inflated view of value, and they’re trying to trade it. And that’s what you are seeing right now. So do I think it’s there? Do I think it is possible? Absolutely.”