Nevada GOP lawmaker wishes he voted for mining tax last year

Nevada GOP lawmaker wishes he voted for mining tax last year
Democrats placed flip flops outside Sen. Keith Pickard's office door during the 31st special session after he said he'd support a mining tax build, then flipped his vote. Image:Lucia Starbuck / This Is Reno

By SAM METZ AP/Report for America

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The Republican state lawmaker who cast the deciding vote in a legislative debate last summer about Nevada’s mining tax structure now says he wishes he voted in favor of reining in deductions that mining businesses can claim.

State Sen. Keith Pickard on Tuesday said he has changed his position and plans to support a mining tax reform resolution that Democratic leadership in the Nevada statehouse is expected to introduce in the weeks ahead.

The Henderson Republican said the hurried nature of last summer’s special session made complex decision-making difficult. He said he was ultimately swayed by arguments that tax hikes could lead to job losses in the mining industry because, while working as an assistant vice president for a construction company more than a decade ago, he learned firsthand the anguish of layoffs.

State Senator Keith Pickard on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City.
(David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

“That was a mistake. I shouldn’t have voted against it. I shouldn’t have done it but I let my emotion get the best of me,” he said. “I should not have voted against the mining tax because politically it’s killed me.”

In Nevada, the pandemic caused businesses to temporarily close, tourists to stay home and conventions to be cancelled — all of which cut deeply into the state’s tax revenue base.

To avoid budget cuts, Democrats targeted the state’s Net Proceeds on Minerals tax in two special legislative sessions convened last summer. Unlike Arizona and Colorado, which tax gross proceeds, Nevada calculates tax burdens for businesses extracting minerals like silver, gold or lithium based on what are called net proceeds — profit minus deductions for certain costs.

To raise an additional $100 million to avoid to education and health care funding, Democrats proposed capping the deductions that mining businesses could claim to 60% of current levels. State law requires two-thirds approval for any proposal to increase taxes or raise revenue and before losing seats in the 2020 election, Democrats had a two-thirds supermajority in the state Assembly and were one seat short in the Senate.

The proposal initially failed after no Republican voted in favor. Pickard told the Nevada Independent a day later that he would change his vote if provisions were added to the proposal to ensure all the funding went to K-12 schools, which would give the proposal enough support to surpass the two-thirds threshold. By the time Democrats agreed to amend their proposal, Pickard  said he wouldn’t vote to raise taxes on mining regardless of where the tax dollars went.

“What I learned after I committed wrongfully to the bill was that it was going to put dozens of mines out of business and thousands out of work,” he said, apologizing specifically to the powerful Las Vegas-area teachers’ union that endorsed his 2018 bid.

The reversal sparked swift rebuke from across the aisle. Lawmakers arranged flip-flop sandals outside of Pickard’s office in the otherwise empty legislative building to draw attention to his change of heart. Democrats later introduced three resolutions to change how Nevada taxes mines, which can be put to voters if they win simple majorities in two back-to-back legislative sessions. The options passed and lawmakers are expected to revisit the issue in the weeks ahead.

Pickard said he’s heard from enough constituents in his district to have changed his mind again and now plans to support compromise legislation that Democrats are expected to introduce in the coming weeks with support from the mining industry.

Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.