Legislative leaders meeting on tax plan, but it's early

On March 5, 2013, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson stunned the Legislative Building by assembling a majority of his caucus to propose a mining tax initiative.

A month earlier, Democratic leaders had promised a revolutionary session on taxes, promising to fully fund education. So surely they would embrace Roberson’s proposal, or at least use it as a jumping-off point for serious discussions about a tax package.

But they did not.

Instead, they whispered about how untrustworthy the GOP leader was, how he was just trying to kill the margin tax, how they would come up with their own plan without him.

But….they did not.

The session ended disastrously for the Democratic leaders, who promised much and delivered little, allowed Gov. Brian Sandoval to checkmate them as they looked for a chess rulebook and now have given Roberson the opportunity to take over the Senate by running candidates who will pummel the opposition for killing a mining tax. Roberson can almost smell victory for himself and two other hopefuls running similar campaigns, Becky Harris and Patricia Farley

I thought of all that Thursday morning as I moderated a panel of four lawmakers, including Roberson, who talked of a new spirit of bipartisanship and revealed much more than is usually done at such meetings, this one before NAIOP, a commercial real estate group. Roberson and Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick had the most to say, but state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey contributed to the aura of bipartisanship.

I note the date (the Legislature is half a year away and an intervening election could chnage the matrix) and point out I have listened to plenty of “We are the World” choruses during the interim that dissolve into “Sympathy for the Devil” during the session, so I reserve the right to invoke my cynicism when the time comes. But what I heard Thursday gave me some hope (I know I may be insane) and provided more than a bit of news, including Kirkpatrick coming out firmly against the margin tax (she expressed doubts when it was first proposed):

►Whatever differences they had during the session, Roberson and Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick have been meeting regularly and with others to talk about a tax and tax reform package in 2015. Roberson told the group of 100 or so people at the breakfast meeting at The Orleans that the ideas would make the tax structure “more fair, more broad.” And, he added, with an allusion to last session’s partisan rancor, “We grew up and realized we need to talk.” (He was a bit unfair to himself there; he was always willing to talk last session.)

►Kirkpatrick revealed some of the ideas: Her pet plan to revamp the Live Entertainment Tax, which went nowhere last session and Roberson gleefully labeled “The Family Fun Tax,” which she reminded him of Thursday with a smile. She also mentioned making adjustments in the property tax, changing the online sales tax, scaling back the payroll tax (“lower the tax, broaden the base”). At the end of her list, Roberson couldn’t help himself, grabbed his mic and said, “And mining.”

►Roberson praised Kirkpatrick for starting the Southern Nevada Legislative Forum, which she said now has 18 bill draft requests designed to help the area northerners love to ignore. (I kid, I kid). I have heard of these efforts before, but this seems to be more real with the two leaders staying in touch frequently and meeting with southern legislators. Kirkpatrick said the cooperation is “way more than we have done in the past.” But she was also careful not to sound like a rapacious southerner, adding, “We have to make sure the rest of the state works as well.”

►Each lawmaker was asked to say how he or she would vote on the three ballot questions. Here’s what they said:

Roberson: Yes on Q1 (appellate court), yes on Q2 (taking mining taxes out of Constitution) and no on Q3 (margin tax)

Kirkpatrick: Yes on Q1, yes on Q2, no on Q3

Kihuen: Yes on all

Hickey: Yes on Q1, hemmed and hawed on Q2 before saying he would vote for it “because it will pass anyway” and no on Q3

►Roberson, who did his usual “we need to tax mining before it leaves the state” speech, also used a question about public financing for stadiums to talk about education. “Until we fix education in this state, it is irresponsible to talk about public financing for stadiums.” That does not sound like – how shall I phrase this? – a typical Republican.

So let’s recap: There are meetings going on to talk about a tax package for next session between leaders of different parties. (I assume the governor knows and is open to such talks.) That is good news, he said with cautious optimism.

Amid this beautiful spirit of bipartisan comity, though, don't forget that Roberson could lose, too. The Democrats are going all out to defeat him.

And I did note the presence of GOP state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer in the audience. Roberson’s Reno lieutenant is in the South raising money for an independent expenditure campaign to wrest the state Senate from Democratic control.

As I said goodbye to Roberson after the panel, I noticed he was cradling in one arm a binder designed to persuade donors to give money to help him become majority leader.