The League of Women Voters forum on this election’s statewide ballot questions drew about 45 people to the Community Center Monday evening and two of the questions didn’t even have someone to argue against them.
But the arguments for and against the education initiative — the “margins tax” were strong on both sides.
Former teacher’s union president Lynne Warne said in a decade of trying through the legislative process, educators and their supporters have been completely unable to get the Legislature to fund a predictable, sustainable source of funding for K-12 schools despite the fact all sides admit Nevada makes a very poor contribution to improving education.
“Out of frustration with the Legislative process, we’ve now moved forward with this initiative,” she said.
Nicole Willis Crimes of the coalition opposing passage of the margins tax said she agrees education is vital and needs to be improved in Nevada.
“Education is important to the state and it’s important we improve it,” she said. “But this isn’t the way to do it.”
Warne said it took just two months to gather more than 150,000 signatures supporting the plan, proof that a lot of Nevadans agree it’s time for business to help and “pay their fair share.” She also said the tax would only be paid by about 14 percent of Nevada businesses since only those grossing $1 million or more would pay.
But Grimes said the way the tax plan is written, even businesses that make no profit would have to pay if they gross more than $1 million in a year. She added that applies, for example, to a small businessman who might own three small stores all under $1 million gross but, when combined, pass that mark.
She said for businesses that run on a very small margin, the tax would put them in the red for the year.
That tax is predicted to generate up to $800 million a year to the K-12 budget account. But Grimes said there’s no guarantee lawmakers and the governor wouldn’t back out existing state funding and use a lot of the cash elsewhere in the budget.
John Hadder of the Great Basin Resource Watch urged passage of Question 2 that would remove protections for the mining industry from Nevada’s constitution. At present, those protections limit taxation on mining to the 5 percent net proceeds tax.
Hadder said the problem with that is all the deductions the industry is allowed to take against that. He pointed to Barrack’s Bald Mountain mine in Nevada, which he said claims deductions higher than their gross yield despite producing 94,000 ounces of gold in 2011 at an average price nearly double what it costs the mine to extract the gold. That means the mine pays no tax to the state.
“We feel they ought to be deducting only production costs,” he said.
He said the Legislature needs to freedom to work with advocates as well as miners to come up with a fair tax level for the mines and can’t have that ability as long as mining is protected in the constitution.
Mining Association Director Tim Crowley was invited but declined to do so four days ago, according to organizers.
The third issue before the audience Monday was the ballot question that would create an appellate court in Nevada. Justice Jim Hardesty said at 333 cases per justice a year, Nevada’s Supreme Court is dramatically overburdened compared to other states. He said the backlog is expected to be 2,200 cases or more by the end of this fiscal year and that those delays have a huge impact on people as well as businesses.
He said the high court has to handle all appeals at this point but the appellate court of three justices would lift much of that burden by handling the less precedential, more run of the mill cases.
He also said the estimated $1.5 million annual cost is mostly covered by the money the Judicial Branch has been reverting to the state General Fund each year.
No opponent to the proposal was at the Monday event but the arguments against passage included in the ballot question point out that the system has functioned without a court of appeals for 150 years.“ It notes that Nevada voters rejected the creation of a court of appeals in 1972, 1980, 1992 and 2010 and says the backlog of cases hasn’t increased significantly since 2010.
If approved, it says the judiciary could seek and lawmakers could approve more than the three justices, add staff and increase spending with no guarantee of an improved judicial system.
The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Northern Nevada, the American Association of University Women and Sierra Forums.
The next League forum is scheduled for Thursday and will feature candidates for Carson City Board of Supervisors and the Carson City School Board.
All are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. in the Community Center Sierra Room.