Pots of gold in the Silver State

Bring your signs, drums, and comfy walking shoes to a statewide budget rally of historic import at 10 a.m. March 21 at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City.

The nation is in crisis. Nevada’s no exception. Right? Not quite. Nevada is in the enviable position of having something special, a resource that Wisconsin lacks, the stuff of California’s dreams.

The Silver State has a gold mine—several, in fact.

Weird that Nevadans have been conned into thinking we don’t deserve the riches of our state. Ranking at the top of every icky social indicator list—drop-outs, teen pregnancies, suicides—has hurt our collective self-esteem.

We’ve remained in this destructive relationship since the Comstock Lode days, 150 years ago. Much like an abused woman who fearfully stands by her man instead of risking liberation, Nevada defends the mining industry decade after decade.

“You want my ranch ’cause thar’s gold in my hills? Take it. Would you also like my firstborn son?”

We hear how mining brings jobs to Nevada. We’re cautioned that we must not tax a business that employs Nevadans. In reality, mining employs less than 1 percent of Nevadans. (The gambling industry employs about 25 percent.) Nevadans for Fair Mining Taxes report that mining pulled $5.7 billion in minerals from Nevada in 2008, 95 percent of it in gold, and paid $40 million (less than 1 percent) in state taxes.

We should kick ’em out and mine the mines ourselves. Enjoy higher education? We’d have enough dough to buy Harvard and move it, brick by brick, to Sparks. Free tuition to all Nevada teens. With liberty and McMansions for all!

Aside from employing a relatively few Nevadans and paying minimal taxes, mining does not give a flying hoot about us. He brags off-handedly about his neglect to friends/stockholders.

When Barrick Gold’s profits tripled last year, the company boasted in a press release that “low costs at its new Cortez Hills mine in Nevada” helped boost those profits.

Newmont Mining Corp.’s net income ($2.3 billion) is up a whopping 76 percent for 2010 with gold reserves at a record-breaking level. In “looking to expand its U.S. reach,” Newmont will concentrate on the Nevada market, say stock market reports.

News flash, Nevada. Right now, mining is into you, but the trendy bastard will dump you the second your lodes dry up.

Mining is not an altruistic industry. Barrick and Newmont didn’t set up huge operations in Nevada to help a downtrodden state. Mining wasn’t attracted to Nevada because of our low taxes.

In a recent Las Vegas Gleaner blog post titled “Psst - hey, Nevada, mining needs you more than you need it,” Hugh Jackson writes, “Nowhere on Earth is more important to Barrick and Newmont than Nevada. And that isn’t going to change any time soon, given the scale and quality of Nevada’s gold reserves.”

Jackson, former editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, has long been a feisty advocate for revising tax exemptions allowed for mines, exemptions that allow wholesale theft of our state’s second most valuable resource. (Our first is our kids, right? Right.) In recent blog posts and a City Life column, Jackson describes sifting through recent gold mining corporation annual reports. “Barrick and Newmont are laughing all the way to the bank … or more accurately, all the way to the Dominican Republic, Peru, Chile and Argentina, where the companies are spending billions of dollars on new projects made possible by robust corporate financial performance that draws more strength from the state of Nevada than from any nation in the world.”

There you have it.

Many Nevadans concerned about cuts to education and public services are holding a rally 10 a.m. March 21 at the legislature in Carson City. The idea—send a message to lawmakers encouraging them to stand up to abusive bullies, including the mining industry. We can solve the budget crisis. We’ve got the gold.