As November and this year’s controversial elections quickly approach, hopeful candidates are pushing their campaigns forward and tackling the most pressing issues facing Nevadans. Topics affecting businesses in the state are particularly important as the state’s economy continues to recover from the most recent recession.
As part of Nevada Business Magazine’s Business First series, over a dozen federal and state candidates recently gathered in Las Vegas to share their views on several issues including education, economic development and taxes in Nevada. The election hopefuls also shared the focus of their campaigns and the challenges and opportunities facing their districts. Nearly 200 attendees had the opportunity to meet the candidates, ask questions and connect one-on-one with the men and women running for office this year. The event was hosted by Nevada Business Magazine and sponsored by Equiinet, Fennemore Craig and Wells Fargo Bank.
With Nevada’s low national ranking in education, it’s no surprise that this is a major issue for many candidates, both federal and state. The state’s public education system has been labeled overcrowded and underfunded and many would agree that the system itself is flawed.
Richard McArthur (R) put it simply, “If we want better schools, we need to make policy changes, not just throw more money at education to get the same results.”
Mary Perry (R) said that, as a federal candidate, she’s limited as to what she can do to directly impact education in the state other than through the Department of Education, which she believes is not helping the situation in Nevada.
Many candidates agreed that more control should be given to the teachers and community leaders within the school districts to better address the needs of the students directly.
“I firmly believe education should be left to the localities closer to the kids,” said Danny Tarkanian (R). “Instead of the federal government trying to determine how [states] should spend their money, [it should] give states block grants based upon the tax revenues they’re paying and use that for educational purposes they choose closer to the locality.”
A number of candidates have held positions in the Nevada education system and have a unique insight into the problem. Reuben D’Silva (I) who, in addition to running for office, is a high school teacher said, “I first and foremost believe that we need to look at expanding opportunities to focus on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and the arts. [We need to also] have some sort of a state-federal relationship where we can expand our scholarship opportunities for serious students.”
Carrie Buck (R) added, “My whole background is changing school systems. I was a principal and turned that school from 35 percent proficient to 90 percent in math and 83 percent in reading. I moved to charter to get the business aspect of schooling. If you look at the charter model, it’s done with way less money.”
“I’ve served on the Clark County School District’s Zoning Attendance Board for two years,” said Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D). “I grew up in a time when the community was really part of the school. I’ve been using my time to meet the educators in the classrooms, support staff and the administrators, seeing how we can get more of a community partnership.”
And, while candidates agreed education needed improvements, they had divergent opinions of the best ways to make that happen.
For example, candidates expressed polarized opinions when discussing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Those showing support for ESAs claimed school choice and increased competition will work to improve the education system, while others argued that public money should strictly stay within the public realm.
Tarkanian (R) said of ESAs, “It’s long overdue and I don’t understand why anybody would challenge it. The only argument is they say, ‘You’re taking money from the public schools and using it in the private schools’. That’s not true. You’re taking half of the money that’s allocated for each student that’s currently in a public school while taking a full student with you. You’re leaving half that money back in the school district.”
“Now you’re going to see competition between schools,” added Victoria Seaman (R), current Assemblywoman for District 34 and republican candidate for State Senate, District 6. “Parents will have the opportunity to know what’s best for their children. We’re going to see a big improvement in education,” she said.
By contrast, Chip Evans (D) said, “I absolutely believe that taking a single dime out of the public education system and not committing to making [public education] better is a sin. The early indications are that the people who are chasing that money are wealthy people who can afford the balance between what the private school will charge and what the ESA provides. This is not going to be an opportunity for poor or moderate income families.”
Monroe-Moreno (D) agreed. “Public money is for public education,” she said. “Nevada’s at the lowest of the totem pole when ranked in states for our public education and taking money away from it doesn’t benefit it. It only hurts it.”
Artemus Ham (R) said, “We’re right at the infancy right now and I’m anxious to see how [ESAs are] going to be utilized, whether it’s actually taken advantage of or it’s another policy that exists but no one really utilizes.”
Attracting Business to Nevada
Tax incentives are part and parcel to attracting new businesses and industry to the state. However, some recent tax incentives that were given out to help bring in big businesses have caused a few Nevadans to speculate on the cost versus benefits. Regardless, many candidates agreed that, in order to be competitive, tax incentives need to be offered.
“We need to protect the small businesses while providing incentives to attract businesses to Nevada because that’s what’s going to create jobs and strengthen our economy,” said Sandra Jauregui (D). “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. You can’t offer tax incentives to everyone, but if the scenario is right, we should be able to offer tax incentives.”
“I think [tax incentives] have to be addressed on a case by case basis,” added Justin Watkins (D). “I’m certainly supportive of what they did for Tesla and Faraday. We want those companies here, but to say in every situation I’d always agree, I can’t say that.”
“The tax incentive we give to a business is usually an upfront thing that really costs us nothing because it’s not money we would have automatically anyway,” explained Keith Pickard (R), candidate for Nevada Assembly, district 22. “We’re incentivizing people to come in here and bring with them the jobs. Then we have that outflow effect where those jobs are now paying more in the state which attracts other businesses to come serve those people and has a great downstream effect.”
Some candidates, including Victoria Seaman (R), Steve Yeager (D) and Danny Tarkanian (R), indicated tax incentives are needed because other states will continue to offer them whether Nevada does or not. Regardless, with Nevada’s favorable business climate, the Silver State poses considerable competition.
“Until we change the climate across the US, we’re going to be competing with neighboring states for jobs,” said Seaman (R). I think that the whole climate needs to change and we need to lower taxes across the nation. When other states are offering tax incentives, it makes it hard for us not to,” she said.
The Nevada Commerce Tax, part of Senate Bill 483, was passed last year by the State Legislature. The tax is designed to help fund the education system. However, the Commerce Tax has come under fire as it’s a gross revenue tax, similar to one that was defeated by voters in 2014.
Current State Assembly Speaker John Hambrick (R), who is running for re-election in District 2, said, “I voted for it, but a lot of businesses are disappointed to say the least because of my conservative background. I believe it was the right thing to do, not only on the education side, but the fact that we had the ceiling of $4 million and how many small businesses will never reach that.”
Jauregui (D) added, “It’s a starting ground to fund education and we needed to do something.”
Perry (R) disgreed. “I do not like the Commerce Tax at all,” she said. “We keep trying to throw money after something where money is not the issue. Small businesses are the backbone of the United States and this is harming them the most. It’s not hard to get to the $4 million ceiling because this is gross, not net.”
Some candidates were concerned about the impact the tax would have on attracting new businesses to the state. Jim Marchant (R) said, “It’s already having an impact. There’s already businesses that won’t come here because they know we have this Commerce Tax. It was a terrible thing for us to do in the first place.”
“I think it was well-intentioned to raise money for education,” said Steve Yeager (D). “But, I’ve certainly heard some concerns from the business community about the structure of the tax, how it’s applied and the different industry codes.”
The U.S. national debt has increasingly become a concern in recent years. At the end of this fiscal year, the total government debt in the United States is expected to be $22.4 trillion according to the president’s budget released by the US Government Publishing Office (GPO). Federal candidates addressed the issue head on and shared their thoughts on what could be done moving forward.
Perry (R) said, “If we increase our tax base, then we can start paying that down. We can stop the wasteful spending. We can stop giving money to countries that hate us and put it into the national debt. Let’s start getting America to being independent again. Right now we’re not independent and that’s going to be our biggest downfall.”
“There’s all kinds of industries and special interest groups that aren’t paying their fair share of taxes,” said Tarkanian (R). “Do we need to give $20 billion a year to the oil industry after the 80 or 90 years they’ve been subsidized? They don’t need it at this time. It’s only because of the power they have over special interest groups that they’re not paying that tax.”
Evans (D) added, “The national debt is an accumulation of many things. The thing to do at the moment is focus on what the deficit is from year to year. The way we’ve done that in the last eight years is to increase our economy output and increase the income coming into the government so they can balance obvious expenses. The deficit really comes from developing a robust business environment.”
“We have a moment in history here where we can look into creating some sort of spending process where we can actually mitigate the longterm effects of the debt,” said D’Silva (I). “Infrastructure development, investing in education and access to healthcare, [for example], can be done to actually turn back that upwards spiral.”
Challenges and Opportunities
With a lot of issues to address if elected, several topics resonated on a closer level depending on each candidate. For example, term limits has always been a much-debated issue in the state. Evans (D) said, “In general, I believe we shouldn’t take the decision away from the electorate on who they want to represent them. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.”
Jacky Rosen (D) added, “If you exercise your right to vote and you’re not happy, you can vote for the next person. Sometimes when you have term limits, you might have a wonderful person and they’ve been doing fantastic things and you’re going to lose all that history and experience. Just exercise your right to vote.”
Perry disagreed. “Term limits are a good thing,” she said. “I see judges sitting on the bench after 12 years and they just go through the motions and lose interest in doing their job. You either move up or you move out.”
Guns and the Second Amendment have also recently been a hot topic in the state. State Assembly candidates McArthur (R) and Marchant (R) advocate for the right to keep and bear arms.
“I will do everything I can to adhere strictly to the constitution as it reads,” Marchant (R) said. “This ballot initiative that Bloomberg is pushing here in Nevada I am vehemently against and will do everything I can to help people understand what it’s going to do.”
When asked her opinion if government is too big and too far reaching, Rosen (D) responded with, “I don’t think government can be all things for all people, but I want to live in a society that has reasonable rules and regulations. I wouldn’t say it’s a big or small issue. It’s an issue of what’s right to keep our communities thriving.”
With a presidential election taking up much of the spotlight, Nevada’s possible future public servants have their work cut out for them in order to be heard through the noise. However, candidates indicated an excitement to be given the chance to address the myriad of challenges and opportunities facing their districts.