Initiatives and the courts: Err on the side of letting voters decide

Nevadans United for Fair Mining Taxes, a group led by Las Vegas businessman Monte Miller, wants to raise Nevada's cap for taxing net mine proceeds from 5 to 9 percent.

Mining companies pay a net proceeds tax on minerals, calculated after extraction and other business costs are deducted.

The ballot initiative -- for which Mr. Miller's group proposes to begin circulating petitions -- does not require the mining tax to be raised. Instead, it would allow the Legislature to raise the rate above the top limit now set in the state constitution.

So, predictably, the Nevada Mining Association filed suit Wednesday, asking state courts to keep the measure off the ballot, on the grounds the initiative is misleading, fails to inform voters of consequences, and sets up a "constitutional collision" with other property tax protections.

The tax initiative "goes far beyond what meets the eye, and Nevadans have a right to know the full impact of what they're being asked to sign," Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley said Thursday.

Yes, clarity is good. But are we really to believe that's all the plaintiffs seek? Or do they just not want Nevadans to have a say?

The initiative process exists as a safety valve, allowing voters to address issues on which they believe their legislators have been derelict. Mr. Miller, here, is in a position similar to that of a legislator who proposes a bill. We do not allow lawmakers to be sued -- they do not face exhaustion of their personal bank accounts -- as a tactic to intimidate them into dropping a proposal. There are procedures to vet and analyze and debate their bills.

Similarly, barring a proposal which is blatantly aberrant or offensive on its face, the courts should err on the side of allowing initiatives to be tested in the open fray of an election campaign. The courts should not cooperate in allowing a well-heeled complainant to prevent a petitioner from testing his proposal in the public fray, simply by exhausting his resources on legal fees.

The primary question here isn't whether the mining tax hike is a good idea: That has yet to be debated and decided. But signature requirements are already onerous enough to keep frivolous matters off the ballot. The court should not block sincere and sensible citizens from putting matters to a vote.