Mining is great for the Silver State, and the industry has launched a new advertising blitz to prove it.
If you listen closely, you can practically hear the critics rolling their eyes.
The promotional campaign, titled "Mining for Nevada's Future," began showing up in print and on televisions, billboards and websites across the state last month. The Nevada Mining Association plans to run the ads through the end of 2012.
"I would expect no less from them," said state Sen. Sheila Leslie, a Reno Democrat and perhaps mining's biggest foe in the Legislature. "Clearly it's aimed at improving their image with the public. I don't think it will work this time."
In 2013, the Legislature is expected to consider a measure that would write the industry out of the Nevada Constitution, ending what some lawmakers consider outdated protections that make it impossible to get more tax revenue from mines now booming because of record gold prices.
"I think it's going to be a bloody battle," Leslie said of the measure known as Senate Joint Resolution 15. "Chances right now are 50-50 that it's going to pass."
The resolution made it through this year's session. If it passes again in 2013, it will be up to voters to decide whether to strike the constitutional provision that limits mining tax rates to 5 percent of the "net proceeds of minerals."
The mining industry's best -- and perhaps only -- hope to block the change is during the next legislative session, historian and former State Archivist Guy Rocha said.
If it winds up on the ballot, the measure is almost certain to pass, he said. Voters in Southern Nevada simply don't understand why mines they never see deserve protections even casinos don't enjoy.
Leslie said the new ad campaign is almost certainly aimed at defeating SJR15 in 2013, no matter how the Nevada Mining Association tries to spin it.
"Nothing terrifies them more than the Legislature passing that a second time," she said.
As Rocha put it, "The war has begun."
MINING FOR SUPPORT
All this battle imagery seems a little out of place for a marketing campaign that's really "pretty benign," Mining Association President Tim Crowley said.
He insists the advertisements were not inspired by particular legislation or designed to head off any specific future action by lawmakers.
"We've always had a mission of educating Nevadans about who we are and what we do," Crowley said.
But while the association has long used advertising to get its message out, Crowley did acknowledge that the scope of this campaign is something new.
In addition to traditional print ads, billboards and television spots, the association is buying space on Internet sites, including that of the Review-Journal. The ads, which will run periodically through 2012, direct people to the association's new website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.
"This isn't the beginning of our public outreach efforts. It's just the beginning of us doing that in a smarter way," said Crowley, who would not say how much the ad blitz is costing.
The campaign is meant to remind people about the importance of minerals in their daily lives and to correct some common misconceptions about mining -- that it's here today and gone tomorrow and doesn't pay its fair share.
One of the television spots notes that mining in Nevada provides more than 50,000 jobs and $300 million in tax revenue, the most money per employee of any industry in the state.
The ad ends with the line: "Mining supports Nevada's families and their dreams."
"If we're going to have a thoughtful conversation about mining, people need to have all the facts," explained Dave Kirvin, a partner in Kirvin Doak Communications, the PR firm that designed the campaign.
AN INDUSTRY ON THE DEFENSIVE
The print ads are running all over, including in newspapers in mining towns, but Crowley said it is "mostly an urban campaign."
Kirvin said the message is especially important in Southern Nevada, far from the open pits and underground tunnels that dot the Carlin Trend.
"You can't take everyone in Las Vegas to a gold mine, but you can tell them about the benefits of mining," he said.
"There's certainly been a lot of discussion about mining coming out of the last legislative session," Kirvin said. "There have been a lot of questions asked about the industry, and the Nevada Mining Association is happy to step up and answer those questions."
The association hired Kirvin's firm in March. Before that, the mining industry was represented by the influential advertising and lobbying firm R&R Partners for more than 10 years.
R&R dropped the association just days before the start of this year's legislative session in a split both sides publicly described as amicable.
What followed was one of mining's most punishing sessions in recent history.
Lawmakers took away a number of the industry's historic tax deductions and struck down an 1875 law that gave mining companies the power to condemn private property.
Only the 1989 session, which saw the net proceeds tax increased and expanded to include payments to the state, proved more bruising for mining companies, Rocha said.
Depending on what happens with SJR15, the 2013 session could be even worse.
Until then, Nevadans can expect plenty of marketing from the mines, Rocha said. "They're willing to spend tens of millions on this because what's really at stake in the long run is billions. It has the potential to be billions."
After all, no other business or industry in Nevada is so specifically protected by the state constitution, Rocha said.
It's more than a "sweetheart deal," he said. "It's the best deal they could possibly have in the world."
DIGGING IN THEIR HEELS
Rocha insists he's not anti-mining. In fact, he thinks Nevada would benefit from more of it, particularly now.
Mines create thousands of good-paying jobs and contribute greatly to the economy, especially in rural areas where they operate. What they don't do, Rocha said, is pay as much taxes on the minerals they extract from Nevada as do mines in other states.
At the very least, current lawmakers -- not the state's founding document -- should control what the mines pay, he said. "The idea isn't to gouge the mining companies. It's to get the mining companies to pay what they pay in other states with hard-rock mining."
As it is now, a decision made almost 150 years ago, when mining was Nevada's premiere industry, still dictates tax policy for mineral extraction, Rocha said. "The past is holding the present hostage."
Crowley refutes this. He said constitutional protections did not stop lawmakers from squeezing another $48 million out of the industry this year.
"The barrier doesn't exist the way you might think it does," he said.
As for SJR15, Crowley said the only thing it will accomplish is the elimination of net proceeds money now guaranteed to rural counties and the state.
Leslie laughed at that.
She doesn't buy it when Crowley says he is "perplexed" by the intent of SJR15. In fact, she doesn't buy much of anything the association has to say.
"I've become something of a cynic about this," Leslie said. "So has the average person on the street. I think that's something the mining industry is just now coming to grips with."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.