By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: While voters and political observers are focused on the Tuesday primary, Nevadans seeking access to the November ballot for measures they are pushing to amend the state Constitution have another key date in mind.
June 15 is the deadline for groups pushing their amendments to turn in the nearly 100,000 signatures they need to qualify the measures for the ballot. There are three initiative petitions to amend the state constitution still active, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The only constitutional measure that is certain to see signatures turned in to the clerks of the state’s 17 counties by the deadline is one seeking to increase the mining tax.
“We’re continuing our collection efforts and we’re getting close,” said Jan Gilbert, Northern Nevada coordinator of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “I’m always optimistic.”
Gilbert said she does not know the precise number of signatures collected so far because the more than 300 volunteers doing the work have not all turned in their petitions yet. The collection effort is continuing even as the group faces yet another court challenge to the proposal before the Nevada Supreme Court on Monday.
The measure would change the Nevada constitution to require the mining industry to pay taxes on no less than 5 percent of the gross proceeds rather than no more than 5 percent of the net proceeds, on their mineral extraction efforts.
The status of two other measures, one aimed at ensuring employees have the right to vote in secret when deciding to join a union, and another explicitly mandating secret voting in all elections, could not be determined when calls were not returned.
One other measure, the Personhood petition to define life as beginning at conception, lost a challenge in Nevada District Court. The Nevada Supreme Court has not yet ruled on an appeal. The group did not respond to an inquiry about whether the signature gathering process is still under way.
Several other measures have been withdrawn by the proponents.
Other active measures to change state law, such as a proposal by Gov. Jim Gibbons to subject public employee labor discussions to the open meeting law, have a different deadline.
Gilbert said PLAN is pushing for the change to Nevada’s mining tax law because of a belief the industry is not paying enough in taxes, especially now that gold is valued at more than $1,200 an ounce. If the PLAN proposal was in effect in 2008, for example, mining companies would have paid $284.4 million in taxes to state and local governments instead of the $91.8 million that was paid by the industry.
The proposal will see its second challenge from the Nevada Mining Association on Monday, when the Nevada Supreme Court considers whether it violates a requirement that such petitions deal only with a single subject. The court will also consider whether the petition is a proper use of the initiative process.
Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said the key issue before the court is whether the petition is proper because it directs the Legislature to take certain actions regarding the mining tax.
“We do believe the initiative is flawed in several ways,” he said. “What they are calling for in the initiative is to force the Legislature to change law, and in our opinion you can’t bind a Legislature to do anything.”
Crowley said the proposal, if approved by voters, would be crippling to the mining industry, particularly for the geothermal industry and those operations providing materials to the construction industry.
“Those businesses cannot endure that type of a tax,” he said. “So it is something that causes us great concern.”
Crowley also noted that the measure would not do anything to solve the state’s current budget problems, since it would have to be approved by voters twice, this year and again in 2012, before it could take effect.
“Our primary focus is fixing today’s fiscal issues,” he said.
Gilbert said the legal challenges are just another attempt by the well-funded mining industry to derail the measure and prevent voters from having their say.
“It’s hard to fight such a well-funded effort,” she said. “We’re hopeful on the Supreme Court case as well.”
A ruling against the PLAN initiative would remove it from the ballot whether the group had gathered enough signatures or not.
Following the submission of the signatures to county clerks, a verification process begins to determine if there are enough names or registered voters to qualify. Petitions require 97,002 signatures from the state’s three Congressional districts. A check is then made to assess whether enough of the signatures are from valid registered voters.
If all the requirements are met, a measure would be qualified for the November general election ballot.