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Nevadans will soon have fun with initiatives

If you don’t like being accosted outside grocery stores by people wielding petitions, now would be a good time to stock up on enough food to last you at least through mid-June.

Between the AFL-CIO, a conservative businessman and a reform-minded lawyer, there could be as many as six petitions circulating soon to raise taxes.

If you’re looking for somebody to blame for the crowded store entryways, look to the Legislature: Failure to address issues in Carson City sends activist citizens scrambling for their computers to write laws politicians just won’t pass.

That’s how frustrated activists got onto the books in recent years a gay marriage ban, medical malpractice limits, medical marijuana, an indoor smoking ban, a state minimum wage and reforms to eminent domain laws. And more than one political observer has opined that the only way a business tax would ever be approved in Nevada is by the voters, via an initiative.

That’s why the AFL-CIO has decided to move forward. The issue of a business tax has long been discussed but scarcely debated in Carson City. (In 2011, it was brought up late in the session but never really got a hearing.)

But that proposal — the details of which haven’t been unveiled just yet — won’t come without some blowback.

Meanwhile, Monte Miller, a conservative businessman who serves on the board of the Keystone Corp., has announced that he will circulate petitions seeking to raise the top tier of the gross gaming tax from 6.75 percent to 9 percent, and to raise the net proceeds of minerals tax from 5 percent to 9 percent.

(That latter tax is fixed in the state constitution and can only be changed by amendment. But Miller says he will seek to put his taxes in statute and amend the state constitution. To get that done, he will need, in effect, at least four petitions.)

There’s no small amount of irony in a conservative businessman seeking to tax business until you realize his efforts are designed to confuse voters. Confused voters are apt to say no to everything.

(Then again, Nevada voters have a way of seeing through deception. They rejected a pair of initiatives that would have undercut medical malpractice limits, and they spurned a pro-smoking initiative passed off as an indoor smoking ban.)

But even if confused voters pass the Miller initiatives, they will serve as revenge only on the gambling and mining industries. Officials from both have for several years decried “industry-specific” taxes, but have eagerly embraced “broad-based” business taxes. Miller’s pair of initiatives — both of which would be more popular with voters than a general business tax — are a way of punishing casinos and miners for breaking anti-tax ranks.

And then there’s attorney Kermitt Waters’ petition, which would eliminate property taxes for single-family homes and impose a 20 percent mining tax and gross receipts tax on business. Revenues would flow to everything from schoolteacher salaries to road improvements to health care for poor children.

But first, Waters must challenge the infamous “single-subject” rule, which has frustrated many an initiative petition. (In fact, no citizen initiative has successfully made the ballot since that rule — which limits petitions to a single subject — was adopted in 2005.)

Making laws at the ballot box is generally the worst way to do it, because petitions cannot be changed even if serious flaws are discovered after they’re introduced. But when the Legislature won’t act, it’s the only option left. So blame the Legislature, stock up on food and pray for that June 19 petition deadline to come and go.

 

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276.

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