Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Supreme Tax Melee

Just a month ago, we were all blown away when State Senator Michael Roberson (R-Metamorphosis) and his merry "Mod Squad" decided to not just change the tax debate in Carson City, but radically upend it with their mining tax alternative to IP 1/The Education Initiative (corporate margins tax). All of a sudden, some Republicans decided that the best way to kill a tax proposal... Is by offering another tax proposal. And on top of that, they decided to target the very industry that's had its sweetheart tax deals written into the Nevada Constitution.

I know, I know. That's a whole lot to process. Yet so is the trouble "The Mod Squad Mining Tax" is now running into.

For one, it likely still doesn't have the votes for passage. (Instead, it's been worsening the civil war within the Nevada Republican Party.) And Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Nevada Mining Association) has threatened to veto it if it does pass. And even if it does pass and somehow overcome a Sandoval veto, a growing chorus of legal experts have been declaring it to be unconstitutional. Why? Since the Nevada Legislature never even voted on IP 1, how can it place an alternative on the ballot?

Amicus Nevada (aka Sean McDonald) first chimed in with his legal opinion suggesting Roberson's tax alternative isn't legal. And now, he's far from alone in thinking this. Yesterday, both the Secretary of State's office and the Attorney General's office reached the same conclusion.

The Secretary of State’s Office said this alternative or any other wouldn’t qualify for the ballot because the Legislature did not meet a deadline by which to introduce the alternative.

That keeps the Nevada State Education Association’s margins tax alone on the ballot. Voters will decide in 2014 if they should approve or disapprove of a 2 percent tax on business revenue that would raise an estimated $800 million for the state’s education system.

After consulting with the Attorney General’s Office, Deputy Secretary for Elections Scott Gilles wrote that the Legislature failed to take actions defined in the state’s constitution by March 15, the 40th day of the legislative session.

The constitution says that the Legislature needs to reject by the 40th day any initiative — in this case, the margins tax initiative — in order to preserve the right to introduce an alternative.

The legal question involved the definition of reject.

And obviously, the Governor's office also agrees with this. However, Roberson still doesn't. Instead, he's doubling down on his mining tax alternative. And he even has a brand new (Legislative Counsel Bureau) LCB opinion to back him up!

["You can do what you want, and the executive branch can't interfere," is] the gist of a new legislative legal opinion that mining taxman Michael Roberson obtained shortly after news broke of executive branch analysis that could block an alternative to the margins tax from the ballot.

It's all about the power of the Legislature to do what it wants.

There is a real separation of powers battle brewing this session, unlike any we have seen before.

Ralston is correct on the last point. We are now seeing an unprecedented conflict over separation of powers, and over who ultimately sets the rules on what makes the cut for the ballot. Roberson & the LCB are arguing that the Legislature can essentially reject citizen initiatives and place alternatives to compete against them on the ballot, the Legislature can do so however it wants, and everyone else must essentially accept this as legal.

Amicus Nevada, Governor Sandoval, and both the Secretary of State's office & the Attorney General's office disagree. They're saying that Article 19 of the Nevada Constitution stipulates that any alternative to a citizen initiative petition must be rejected in an actual vote of the Legislature. They've also hinted that it's unclear as to whether the Governor's approval is also required to move an alternative initiative forward. And on top of that, is this mining tax also violating the single subject rule (since it proposes a completely different tax than that of IP 1 itself)?

At the very least, the legal waters here are very murky. This nonetheless doesn't seem to be stopping Senator Roberson's "Mod Squad" from pursuing their mining tax alternative. It's now just a matter of how much further it can go in the Nevada Legislature... And how long before The Nevada Supreme Court is asked to intervene.

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