LAS VEGAS (AP) - A lawyer for Nevada mining interests urged the state Supreme Court on Monday to reject a proposed ballot initiative that he said would "commandeer" the legislative process and force lawmakers to extract more in taxes from mining companies.
The proposed initiative would amend the state constitution to require that mining companies pay not less than a 5 percent tax on gross proceeds, instead of not more than 5 percent of net proceeds.
Attorney Bradley Schrager, representing the Nevada Mining Association, told the seven-member court that the initiative is legally flawed and shouldn't be on the ballot.
"The issue here is can you, through the initiative process, commandeer the Legislature - tell it how to vote?" Schrager said. "There would be no room for legislative debate."
Don Springmeyer, attorney for proponents of the measure, said that telling the state government what voters want is what initiatives and constitutions are for.
"It's perfectly appropriate for the constitution to command a Legislature to do something," said Springmeyer, who is representing the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Nevadans for Fair Mining Taxes.
He said the initiative would serve as a "policy statement" from voters and that elected lawmakers would still have discretion to choose how to implement the law.
"It's simple. Are we going to raise taxes on the proceeds of mineral production in the state of Nevada?" Springmeyer said. "This devolves into, 'Does this appeal to our common sense? Is it germane?' I say 'yes.' The other side says 'no."'
Schrager focused little on a core mining association argument - rejected by Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson Jr. in March - that the petition deals with at least three topics in violation of the state's requirement that initiatives deal with a single subject.
Wilson wrote that he was satisfied the initiative dealt with one subject, in two parts.
The mining association has argued the measure could effectively triple mining taxes. Wilson agreed in March to require PLAN to make it clear that if the measure was in effect in 2008, industry taxes of about $92 million would have been about $284 million.
"Nothing prevents an initiative just because the consequences are huge," the judge added.
PLAN argued that the initiative would bring much-needed revenue to cash-strapped Nevada by tapping profits reaped by companies mining the richest gold reserves in the nation. It would also affect mining of other minerals.
"The people have a right to vote to make that cap a floor," Springmeyer said before court Monday. "The Legislature would then implement it."
Schrager repeatedly asserted Monday that the initiative would usurp the power of the Legislature.
Justice James Hardesty appeared skeptical, asking why wouldn't rejecting the mining measure put the court on a "slippery slope" toward allowing interested parties to block every future initiative?
Schrager responded that the specificity of the PLAN initiative and the imperative that the Legislature enact it makes it unconstitutional.
The court made no immediate ruling. Justice Mark Gibbons, however, acknowledged that the court knows time is short.
The deadline for PLAN to submit 97,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot is June 15.
PLAN spokesman Launce Rake conceded Monday that whatever the Supreme Court rules, PLAN and initiative proponents may not have enough time to meet the deadline. He said proponents currently about 65,000 names.
"This is a campaign, it's not the whole battle," Rake said. "If the court changes the language, or we don't get enough signatures, we're still going to work on the Legislature next year."