Assemblywoman on mining industry: ‘It’s high time they paid’

Nevada Assembly
Members of the Nevada Assembly inside the chamber on the first day of the 31st Special Session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on July 8, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The push to raise mining taxes isn’t going away, one lawmaker promised her colleagues Wednesday.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray Axelrod became the first elected official to publicly express support for raising mining taxes during the ongoing special session. Her comments came late Wednesday after the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 3, which, among other things, requires mining companies to pay their estimated taxes in advance. The advance payments are expected to bring in $54.4 million into the state general fund early, which will help the state weather a $1.2 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.

Mining tax reform advocates have been calling for legislators to reduce the number of the tax deductions available to mining companies. Under existing law, mining companies can often reduce the net proceeds they are taxed on down to zero and pay nothing to the general fund.

In back-to-back statements on the floor, Republican Assemblywomen Robin Titus and Alexis Hansen said mining companies are already overburdened by state taxes and regulations. The Republican assemblywomen each praised mining companies, both for their role in shaping Nevada (“We are the Silver State,” said Hansen) and for being charitable within their communities.

In response, Bilbray Axelrod noted she is a third generation Nevadan.

“I think I’m aware of what mining has and hasn’t done here,” she said. “It’s time they paid their fair share. Honestly this bill doesn’t do enough — not nearly enough.”

She continued by addressing Titus and Hansen directly: “Thank you for what you have to say about mining. I’m so happy they’re here in Nevada and they rake the earth. But this is our state. They do things that are not right and you know it. And it’s high time they paid. And this isn’t the end of it.”

Bilbray Axelrod elaborated to the Current later she felt compelled to comment after Titus and Hansen both referenced having deep roots in the state.

“I have deep roots too,” she said.

Advocates of mining tax reform argue the industry has continued to receive preferential tax treatment in part because of a lingering cultural romanticism of the history of the wild west. Bilbray Axelrod believes that history is not more important than the needs of Southern Nevada.

“We are 78 percent of the state,” she added. “They need to pay their fair share.”

Most Nevada lawmakers thus far have danced around the topic of raising mining taxes. When asked Wednesday whether he believes the state should look at reducing the tax deductions available to the mining industry, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson responded, “I think we should consider all options on the table.”

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro has made similar comments whenever pressed by the media for specific details on the “ongoing discussions” legislative leadership claims are underway with Republicans.

Other lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez Thompson and state Sen. Chris Brooks, have expressed to advocacy groups a desire for tax reform but have stressed the importance of it being a bipartisan effort.

Assembly vote splits

Even before the heated comments from Bilbray Axelrod, the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 3 raised some eyebrows by garnering a split vote in the lower house. The bill passed the Senate with only one nay vote from Republican state Sen. Ira Hansen, who objected to mining being singled out for advance payments.

In the Assembly, the bill passed 32-10. Republicans Chris Edwards, Alexis Hansen, John Hambrick, Jim Wheeler, Lisa Krasner and John Ellison voted against the bill, as did Democrats Skip Daly, Greg Smith, Richard Carrillo and Ozzie Fumo.

Fumo attempted to abstain but was told by Speaker Frierson the rules did not allow him to do so unless there was a specific legal reason approved by legislative counsel. Fumo, who is running for Nevada Supreme Court, countered by suggesting there may be a future issue but Frierson reiterated that an abstention was not allowed.

Republican caucus leaders state Sen. James Settelmeyer and Assemblywoman Titus expressed on the record in their respective chambers’ concerns that the bill not require a two-thirds majority for passage. They said a similar bill passed during the 2010 did require a two-thirds majority.

Nevada Republicans are already challenging a 2019 Legislative Session vote to retain commerce tax rates that had been set to expire. That legislation passed with a simple majority.

What’s next

Of the bills that have already been introduced, the two most painful remain. Assembly Bill 3, the big budget bill that slashes half a billion dollars from public funding, was presented to the Assembly on Wednesday. Amendments are expected to be introduced Thursday. Also outstanding is Assembly Bill 1, a bill that requires state employees to take furloughs or equivalent pay cuts.

Three bills related to capital improvement cuts, expanding public borrowing options and allowing for Millennium Scholarship eligibility requirement waivers have already passed the Legislature and are expected to be signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak. A resolution urging federal action on relief has also passed.

The introduction of a new bill is still a possibility.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.