While lawmakers canoodle with ‘stakeholders,’ Barrick gives an extra $750M to shareholders

I wish money would rain down on me
Oh sorry Nevada that money is for shareholders, not your schools. (Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay)

Earlier this month Barrick Gold’s voting shareholders approved a proposal by Barrick’s board of directors (a group which includes area man Brian Greenspun, btw) to bestow on the aforementioned shareholders a very special one-time extra distribution of $750 million. In addition to regularly scheduled dividends.

Everything is so peachy at Barrick that “we believe that our sustainable profitability is not yet recognized in the share price,” said Barrick executive chairman John Thornton, adding some color commentary to the happy news.

Barrick’s conspicuous pandemic-boosted profitability was recognized, however briefly, in Carson City last summer. First lawmakers attempted to eliminate some of the humiliatingly reckless and generous tax deductions the state bestows on mining. When that didn’t work, the Legislature approved three alternative state constitutional amendments to reform how Nevada taxes mines, the idea being one of the amendments would be approved a second time during the regular session, and appear on the 2022 ballot.

Alas, barring a stunning uprising in which rank and file Democratic legislators masterfully marshal procedures and override the wishes of their leadership, the governor, and the glad-handing long-time Barrick executive now running the governor’s beloved economic development office, it seems unlikely voters will be allowed to have their say on any of those constitutional amendments.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson has been tight-lipped about the deal he’s forging with “stakeholders,” i.e., the unholy alliance between Barrick and Newmont that goes by the name Nevada Gold Mines (NGM). When the deal is unveiled, it may well involve no constitutional amendments at all, perhaps in part because mining has intimidated legislators into believing an amendment won’t withstand court challenges. Besides, last summer’s impulse to tax mining was so 2020.

I will now speculate freely:

I expect no removal of mining tax deductions, because the industry has always been loathe to admit legislators can tinker with deductions whenever they want. More likely is a teensy rate increase somewhere else, such as the commerce tax (that’s the bidness tax Gov. Brian Sandoval created). Mining’s commerce tax rate is smaller than every other industry’s, by the way.

I also expect the tiny rate increase and/or any other mining tax adjustment in the stakeholder-approved deal will fail to generate anywhere near as much revenue as projected for any of the three constitutional amendments. But face must be saved. So watch for the deal to also include a mining industry commitment to donate a nickel-ninety-eight to worthy causes, almost certainly including everyone’s favorite nebulous distraction from urgent problems – some workforce development/economic development program or other. And then legislative leaders, the governor, and the glad-handing long-time Barrick executive now running the governor’s beloved economic development office will all hail the industry’s generosity, benevolence, and general all-purpose magnificence.

I will be delighted to be wrong.

NGM – not to be confused with MGM, despite a shared practice of patting elected officials on the head so long as they behave – gave a half million dollars last fall to a political action committee affiliated with the governor and the Democrats. That’s an uncommonly large donation. And it won’t be the last.

A half million dollars is also .00066 percent of the extra $750 million that is falling out of the sky for Barrick shareholders. So that’s another characteristic shared by MGM and NGM: Relative to the scale of their operations and financial performance, buying a state government is dirt cheap.

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How big does Las Vegas need to be though? Can, should, Southern Nevada just grow and grow and grow all the time because jobs jobs jobs and money money money? The conventional answer, rendered by politicians and the growth lobby for which they stand, has always been “yes, please.”

The Clark County federal lands bill is eagerly sponsored by Nevada’s congressional delegation, with the full-throated support of the Clark County Commission. It is deliberately designed to enable and facilitate urban sprawl, in an ecosystem uniquely ill-suited to sustaining urban sprawl.

The people who will provide the population growth needed to to occupy the (decidedly unaffordable) homes and work in the businesses that will be developed on the new Sprawlspace are not here yet. Why will they come here? Dumb question, because the answer is Who cares? Build it and they will come, developers promise. Sounds legit, elected officials reply.

But oh wait. Some people who live here now might be worried about the aforementioned ecosystem uniquely ill-suited to sustaining urban sprawl thing.

No worries, say the developers and their pols. Just say “conservation” a lot, and maybe even make sure there are some very, very well-financed “conservation” groups to provide public cover to Nevada’s most important and influential economic activity. No, not the resort industry. The growth industry.

All of that, anyway, is my takeaway from this outstanding report by Dana Gentry on what environmentalists not being paid to say otherwise are calling the Clark County public lands bill “greenwash.”

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Trouble at camp. Some of the kids broke the rules that aren’t even the rules anymore, but they still can’t go to the big fun events anyway and have to stay inside their dumb cabins instead. But they’d rather stay in their cabins than go be with all the other kids anyway because all those other kids are just a bunch of stinky poopheads. Or as one media outlet put it, “Nevada Republicans punished for defying statehouse mask rule.”

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Trumpity Trump Trump. Get a load of North Las Vegas mayor and freshly announced Republican gubernatorial candidate John Lee throwing the Trumpy high cheese. What are the most urgent and pressing problems making life harder than it needs to be for Nevada working families? Socialism and cancel culture, obviously.

In a related item, setting up a Battle of the JLs, Sheriff Joe Lombardo is reportedly in the GOP race for governor, and lawyer and former state Sen. Mark Hutchison (who was also a lieutenant governor but that is barely a job in Nevada so only warrants parenthetical mention) is out. 

From sheriff to governor is not a typical political move anywhere, at least not without an office or two in between. And since Sisolak as Clark County Commission chair had run-ins with Lombardo, their “1 October” bromance notwithstanding, you have to wonder if Lombardo’s decision is more personal than political or ideological – that his vision for the state consists of sticking it to Sisolak, period. 

Yes that would be super petty. What’s your point?

(The above items are excerpts, some lightly massaged, others more heavily, of material published in the Daily Current newsletter, the editor’s opinionated morning news roundup, which you can subscribe to here.)

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.