A legislative committee held a hearing the other day on Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce's bill to make mining pay some taxes for a change. After months of batting their big doe eyes at legislators during romantic dinners, pretending to be impressed with the intelligence and wit of lawmakers and otherwise softening up/wearing down your elected officials, mining lobbyists used the hearing to fill the air with artificial arguments and disingenuous diversions designed to lead the committee far off into the weeds and well away from any trenchant discussion. For the most part it worked, and questions asked of the industry's lobbyists tended to range from the innocuous to the irrelevant.
If Pierce's bill is ever sent to the Assembly floor and legislators vote on it, people would find out: What do elected officials value more, wealthy investors around the world with huge financial interests in multinational mining corporations, or Nevada?
Ha ha trick question. The answer is none of the above. What legislators value most is avoiding potentially controversial votes. Republican lawmakers in Clark County don't want to be accused of siding with multinational corporations earning record profits while Nevada education is deeply and irreparably damaged. Garden variety scaredy-cat Democrats don't want to be slammed for raising taxes. As it happens, the committee took no action on the bill, and unless and until it does, your lawmakers will be resting comfortably in their preferred habitat: off the hook.
Meantime, Pierce has also sponsored legislation scheduled to be heard in committee Tuesday that would establish a broad-based business tax.
At the hearing on the mining bill, industry frontman Tim Crowley reiterated mining's oft-asserted endorsement of a broad-based business tax. I think I speak for all of Nevada when I say I eagerly await Crowley's forceful testimony in favor of Pierce's bill Tuesday. I particularly look forward to the part when Crowley and other mining industry lobbyists openly and publicly urge Republican lawmakers, including and especially those from rural Nevada who have the closest and most dear relationships with mining, to defy Gov. Brian Sandoval and vote first for new taxes and then to override Sandoval's veto.
What? You doubt that mining lobbyists will say anything of the sort? You think that at most they'll announce they're neutral on the bill and mutter some vague support for broadening the tax base, and then the media won't press the industry to explain why it won't fight for what it keeps saying it believes in? Jeesh you people are cynical.
Anyway, back to that mining tax bill. The Nevada Spectator has loaded up audio bits from the hearing. I echo Spectator and strongly recommend that everyone listen to the exchange between Pierce and some Palindrone who apparently has spent his entire adult life under the delusion that transnational mining conglomerates give a shit whether Elko exists. I also recommend the remarks of PLAN's Michael Ginsberg, which were excellent. My testimony is on there too, but I've no indication that legislators listened to it so can't imagine why you should either. I will, however, publish my charts, for the chart-liking dorks among you, and for posterity:
In a fancifully contrived diversion highly favored by bullshit-flinging mining industry lobbyists, mining taxes are frequently compared to property taxes paid by homeowners and businesses. While discussing the chart above, I apologized to the committee for not knowing the percentage of home and business owners who paid no taxes at all on their property from 2000 through 2009, as was the case with mines 40 percent of the time during that decade. Always willing to acknowledge others' expertise, I suggested that perhaps the mining industry lobbyists had brought that information to the committee. If they did, they didn't share it. And legislators didn't ask mining to explain why it is fair tax policy when a large portion of taxpayers pay no taxes at all.
2. Nearly 90 percent of Nevada's mineral production is gold and only two companies account for more than 90 percent of that, remember? With that in mind, this second chart illustrates that there is no other nation on earth that is more important to these companies than the state of Nevada.
One could, s'pose, draw the conclusion -- especially under the current tax system (or lack thereof) -- that Nevada is more important to mining than mining is to Nevada. In Carson City, of course, that would not be called a conclusion, but blasphemy.
3. I told legislators that the point of this third chart was not to show that Barrick and Newmont are making oodles so gosh let's go get 'em. Rather, the point of the chart is to show that compared to the sheer size of these numbers -- the companies' combined net income is larger than the budget proposed by Sandoval, and their combined cash reserves are larger still -- the idea that a modest tax increase is going to drive corporations to scale back Nevada operations is really fucking stupid (OK, that's not exactly the phrase I used but maybe it should have been):
To paraphrase what I told your illustrious elected representatives: No place on earth is more important to the financial performance of both these companies than Nevada. And the companies are going to spend and invest in Nevada what they're going to spend and invest in Nevada based on market forces that are orders of magnitude more important than Nevada's trifling and dysfunctional mining tax. If mining's tax burden is increased, money won't be taken out of the state. Money will be brought to the state -- money that otherwise would have never even seen Nevada because it would just go toward puffing up the numbers on that chart.
But if the Legislature goes forward with Sandoval's budget cuts, lots and lots of people (especially in higher education) will definitely lose their jobs. And throwing all those people out of work will definitely hurt the economy.
No one cared about any of this stuff. The end.