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The Nevada State Senate chambers on the first day of the 31st Special Session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Senators said they went through an “emotional rollercoaster” after a bill reducing mining tax deductions died, then appeared to gain a crucial Republican vote, then died again within 48 hours.

A compromise struck between Senate Democrats and Republican Sen. Keith Pickard and announced Saturday morning would have revived the dead bill and directed the revenue toward education, but well before the amendment cementing the deal came up for discussion Saturday night, Pickard announced he was backing out. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in an indignant floor speech that “the time for disingenuous promises is over.”

“What should never be hard, what should always be an easy choice, is to stay true to our word,” Cannizzaro said. “And especially when that word relates to the future of this state.” 

The bill, AB4, then failed on party lines, 13-8, one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the revenue-generating measure.

Pickard said on Friday he’d support the bill if Democrats guaranteed the funding would go toward K-12 education programs. But on Saturday, Pickard said the deal he agreed to “falls woefully short of what would be our goal of proper and adequate funding for K-12 education” and that $100 million in revenue would not move the needle on education long-term.

Pickard also said the move would have put “dozens” of mines out of business and thousands of people out of work, and argued it would be wrong to pass a flawed bill without input from the affected industry just because the state needed money. Officials with the mining association said they learned of the bill a few hours before it was introduced, and testified against the bill at a late-night hearing.

“So did I make a mistake? You bet I did,” Pickard said. “There’s a bee in my bonnet that suggests I will make another one. But at the end of the day, we have to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

Pickard also apologized to the Clark County Education Association, the powerful teacher’s union that helped get him elected and urged him to back the measure. He said that he “miscalculated” in the “rush” to pass the legislation but said there were mistakes in both the process and the substance of the legislation.

“To my friends at CCEA I am truly sorry. I wanted to find money for them,” Pickard said. “I just couldn’t take it out of somebody’s pocket without their consent.”

Pickard said he preferred to address the issue during a regular session when all parties could be at the table. Democratic Sen. Melanie Scheible said she was “baffled” by that logic.

“Why in the world, wouldn't we vote for this $100 million investment in schools today, just because we could make a greater investment tomorrow?” she asked. “Don't you take the first step, don't you make the first decision, don't you start down the path. In order to get better as you move on.”

Cannizzaro, who had been in talks with Pickard on the deal Friday, blistered the Republican senator over his “disingenuous promises” to back the mining proposal if the funding went toward education, saying “what has been asked for has been given.”

“It is corporations or kids and this should be a strong yes,” Cannizzaro said.

Democratic Assembly members, meanwhile, dropped hundreds of pairs of flip flops around and outside Pickard’s office to protest the Republican senator’s change in position during the floor session.

The bill proposed limiting mining companies to 60 percent of the deductions they would normally take and, in combination with another bill requiring double payment of mining taxes this year, would generate an additional $101.1 million in revenue for lawmakers to apply to their $1.2 billion budget shortfall. In 2019, the mining industry grossed $7.8 billion, but taxes were only applied to the $2.5 billion in net proceeds that year.

The amendment made several changes to AB4, including a new provision exempting any mining company that grosses $10 million or less a year. It also appropriated $50 million to the Supplemental Support for Classroom Instruction Account and $50 million toward school funding weights, with any additional revenue flowing to the general fund.

Republicans have said that a pandemic is not the right time to raise taxes, and that not all options for finding revenue have been exhausted. They argued that because the federal government has said that it intends to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency, extending to Nevada an extra $30 million in Medicaid matching dollars, those dollars should be on the books as helping with the budget shortfall.

Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti, however, said the money is tentative and would flow toward health care, not education, if it comes through. The federal government has until July 25 to decide whether to extend the enhanced Medicaid funds.

“It’s not Medicaid’s job to fund education. It’s our job to fund education,” Ratti said. “And we have an opportunity to do that here today.”

With the mining proposal officially dead, the Legislature will now turn to the budget cuts bill, AB3, the last major piece of legislation expected to be considered during the special session.

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