By SANDRA CHEREBCARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) â¿¿ Republicans in the Nevada Assembly distanced themselves Wednesday from their GOP Senate colleagues over a proposal to seek more taxes from mining. The Assembly GOP caucus said legislators should focus on the budget and other government reforms instead of trying to draft a mining tax measure to compete with a business tax initiative on the 2014 ballot. "Trying to create new initiatives to defeat flawed initiatives may seem creative, but our primary concern is this budget, this session," Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said a day after Senate Republicans announced their stunning proposal to target Nevada's mining industry for education funding. Nevada is the largest gold producer in the U.S, and the industry is a frequent target when lawmakers go digging for revenues to pad state coffers. But Republicans have generally been an ally of the industry, which also has tax-limiting protections in the state Constitution. Not so this session, and the move by Senate Republicans has opened a fissure within the GOP minority and angered lawmakers from rural areas where mining is king. "With the possibility of 800 new mining jobs and another new mine coming to Lyon County, we shouldn't be thinking about trying to fund urban state schools by taxing the mining industry, which is located primarily in rural Nevada," said Assemblyman Tom Grady of Yerington, the minority whip. Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, on Tuesday acknowledged mining's "positive impact on Nevada's economy and our communities," but he said the industry is different than any other because at some point the gold will be gone. "It is imperative that we ensure that Nevadans get the best deal we can, while we can," he said. Legislators this session will be voting on SJR15, a proposed amendment passed during the 2011 session to repeal mining tax protections in the constitution. It would then be put on the 2014 ballot for voter ratification.
Senate Republicans want to put an as-yet undefined proposal to increase mining taxes on the same ballot. A mining tax measure would compete with the teachers' union initiative to impose a 2 percent tax on businesses, which is also slated for next year's general election ballot.Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican midway through his first term, said he opposed the Senate blueprint, and Assembly Republicans lined up in his corner Wednesday. Hickey said Sandoval's proposed budget "has over $400 million in new funding for education, including more spending for per-pupil funding, pay increases for teachers, money for early language learners and all-day kindergarten." "We see ourselves as partners with Gov. Sandoval and legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle," Hickey said. "Our job is to do what we were sent here to do â¿¿ find legislative solutions this session." The Assembly GOP caucus plans to outline its legislative priorities on Thursday that will include reforms to the public employee pension system and wage requirements on school construction projects. "This could result in real savings here and now," said GOP Assistant Minority Leader Cresent Hardy, of Mesquite.