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Nuclear Dump Remains Hot Tax Issue for Nevada

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Associated Press

Bullfrog County, population 0, was born at 3 a.m. on the last day of the 1987 Nevada Legislature and died last year in court.

The legislators’ invention, a new locality levying the state’s highest taxes on the proposed site of the nation’s first high-level nuclear waste dump, proved unconstitutional. But the idea of making the federal government pay for choosing Nevada lives on.

“I don’t know of any current proposal out there but I think that if we have to take the dump we should be compensated for it,” Assembly Taxation Committee Chairman Bob Price said as the 1989 session opened Jan. 16.

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Some believe that Nevada could begin collecting tax-like fees from the federal government as it tests the proposed site, whether the underground repository is built there or not, Senate Taxation Committee Chairman Charlie Joerg said. “I think we’d be foolish not to look into the possibility of collecting money from the government. We should get some benefit from this.”

‘87 Resolution Resurfaces

A resolution from the 1987 Legislature resurfaced in the Senate on opening day this year. It would establish a special tax district around the site to let the state collect $5 per $100 of assessed valuation, as if the repository were a private project. The rate is the maximum allowed by the Nevada Constitution and about three times the local levy around the proposed tax district.

Backers of the assessment plan want money in lieu of taxes to offset the impact on local governments, which would have to provide housing, education, law enforcement and other services for people working at the $2-billion dump.

Assembly Speaker Joe Dini said lawmakers should move cautiously to avoid sending a signal to Washington that Nevadans are willing to accept the nation’s nuclear garbage. “We’ve had advice that if we try to get money out of the federal government it will weaken our position to fight the dump.”

‘It Implies Consent’

Assemblywoman Myrna Williams introduced a resolution with 35 co-sponsors urging Congress to halt the dump. Williams blasted a measure introduced in the state Senate to negotiate with the government, saying, “It implies consent.”

In 1987, Congress passed legislation directing the Department of Energy to concentrate on Yucca Mountain as a place to bury spent fuel from nuclear power plants. The site 110 miles northwest of Las Vegas could be licensed in 1995.

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The Legislature responded by carving 144 square miles out of Nye County as a way to let the state collect the maximum property tax rate. That could have cost the federal government an estimated $8 million to $25 million a year.

Bullfrog County--inhabited by rattlesnakes, coyotes, lynx, kangaroo rats and lizards, but no humans--was named after a Nye County mining district that failed in a bid to become a separate county nearly 80 years ago. It was given a three-member commission and a county seat 250 miles away in Carson City.

Nye County sued the state, challenging Bullfrog’s creation on 37 different legal grounds in a 92-page brief. Its major claim was that because Bullfrog had no residents it had no representative government and was unconstitutional. It also contended that it was entitled to any money collected.

“Nye County should be compensated more. We have to recognize mitigating factors because they would be closest to the dump,” said Joerg.

Retired Nevada Supreme Court Justice David Zenoff ruled Feb. 11, 1988, after 30 minutes of oral arguments, that Bullfrog County was unconstitutional. He said it stretched its legal limits “every which way,” and left too many constitutional issues “hanging in the air.”

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