Updated 

Just a few questions about Nevada's taxes, if I may


So, let me see if I have this right.

After years of progressives trying unsuccessfully to remove the constitutional cap on mining taxes and impose greater levies on the industry, the effort has advanced further than it ever has ... because of the Republicans?

After an ultra-close election in which former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno — the progressive champion of mining taxes — was defeated by Republican Greg Brower, it turns out that Brower has taken up Leslie’s side of the mining debate?

Instead of leaping with joy that a long-time goal of their party may finally be met, Democrats in the Legislature are silent or even critical of the effort?

And the speaker of the Assembly, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, laments to reporters from the Las Vegas Sun that a potential sales tax on services was killed because too much discussion in the press turned Democrats against it.

But a sales tax on services — assuming it’s not applied only to professional or business-related services — could hit Nevada’s poor hard. Clark County’s sales tax is already high (it’s at 8.1 percent, and could go higher if a sales tax dedicated to hiring more police officers is approved.) The poor already pay a higher percentage of their income in sales taxes than do the rich. And if the tax is applied to common, everyday services — think haircuts and dry cleaning — the burden will fall disproportionately on those least able to shoulder it.

Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick has flatly declared there will be no alternative tax for the 2014 ballot on mining, an industry benefitting from years of high precious metal prices that sends profits from extracting a non-renewable resource from Nevada’s public lands out of state or out of the country?

(Let’s allow here for the possibility that Democrats don’t want a mining tax alternative competing with a 2 percent business margins tax that the Nevada State Education Association labored long and hard to get before the Legislature. Then again, lawmakers rejected that measure by simply ignoring it, an action that automatically sends it before voters next year. Or, perhaps Democrats are concerned about competing legal opinions, some of which say no alternative tax is even allowed. Then again, the Legislature’s own lawyers say it is.)

But a bill that would have swiftly imposed a 4.5 percent tax on business profits — proposed, as always, by the indefatigable Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas — was once again ignored, dying without even getting the courtesy of a simple hearing in the Taxation Committee, notwithstanding Pierce’s seniority in the Assembly?

And the most that seems possible now as the session winds into its endgame is a possible tightening of the rules surrounding the live entertainment tax? Or perhaps reviewing and maybe eliminating some tax exemptions?

Doesn’t that mean that Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval — who already agreed to again extend a package of supposedly temporary taxes first OK’d in 2009, and who has said he’ll sign the police sales tax — is the only person in Carson City with a viable tax plan that enjoys wide agreement?

And that, close behind Sandoval, is Republican state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, with a mining tax plan that has drawn skepticism from Sandoval and the Democrats, but nonetheless is an actual plan? And the revenue from Roberson’s idea could produce twice as much as Democrats have said they want to spend on the state’s schools?

Do I have all of that right? Because if I do, one final question must be asked: Just what in the hell is going on up in Carson City?

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.