I respect my doormat, but I still wipe my feet on it.
That’s the impression I was left with Thursday morning after listening to firebrand conservative Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore discuss Gov. Brian Sandoval’s legislative agenda during an interview with Dave Becker on KNPR-FM, 88.9’s “State of Nevada.”
Not only is Fiore extremely unimpressed with Sandoval’s plan to raise business license fees by several hundred million in support of Nevada’s foundering public schools, but she continues to question his Republican credentials in the run-up to the 2015 session of the Legislature.
Her daily roasting only appears to be growing in intensity.
“Our state cannot afford $1.2 billion in taxes that was voted down,” Fiore said. “This isn’t something that’s pie in the sky. This tax was voted down by 80 percent of the constituents who said no on a gross receipts margins tax. This tax, this $1.2 billion, $440 million of it is basically a watered down gross receipts margins tax.
“The voters spoke loud and clear. So what message are we sending to the voters? ‘Hey guys, you took the time out, you went and voted, you voted this down on the ballot, but we’re not going to pay attention to you today. And we’re just going to do what you don’t want us to do.’ How well do you think that’s going to play in the next election?”
Fiore, meanwhile, called for slashes to the public education budget teacher education incentives and classroom-size reduction.
But, really, she thinks a great deal of Sandoval.
“The respect level for our governor has always been high and will continue to always be high, but just because we disagree on policy doesn’t mean there’s any lack of respect,” Fiore said after blasting his policies and Republican bona fides. “Brian Sandoval is our governor. He’s an incredible individual.”
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Two Nevada Republican lawmakers say they have nearly enough votes to block Governor Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget, over concerns about tax increases they say will harm businesses.
Las Vegas Assemblywoman Michele Fiore and Sparks Senator Don Gustavson spoke at the Atlantis in Reno on Tuesday. Fiore said the proposed tax increases in Sandoval’s budget need to be removed after Republicans took control of the State Assembly.
She said the current budget needs to be flushed right down the drain, and that 12 assembly members will vote against the budget.
At least we now know why the Democrats didn’t recruit a substantial candidate against Gov. Brian Sandoval in the last election.
It would have been hard to find anyone capable of running to the left of our popular Republican. But given the sorry state of Nevada’s public education system, that might actually be a good thing.
The state possesses few viable Democrats with politics more progressive than those espoused Thursday by Sandoval in his State of the State, in which he called for a $7.3 billion two-year budget. That includes $1.5 billion in additional revenue: $580 million in the “endless sunset” tax extension, $80 million in increased cigarette taxes, and $440 million from a new fee on business licenses.
A Republican suggesting a big bump in a business tax?
Forgive me if canaries are circling my head. I’m feeling a little dizzy now that Nevada politics has turned upside down.
The new business tax proceeds would go directly toward Nevada’s foundering public schools with its Dickensian motto: “Please, sir, I want some more.” Although teachers union officials have stated publicly a willingness to embrace proposed system reforms, most Nevada Republicans are probably still trying to get their heads around a proposed $440 million tax increase suggested by one of their own.
But what makes critics of the governor’s plan more embarrassed: the idea of a Republican increasing the business tax to improve public education, or the fact our K-12 system ranks among the poorest in the nation?
Predictably, Nevada’s hard-core conservative Republicans had their crewcuts on fire over Sandoval’s checkbook approach to education reform. Their motto: “He wants some more!” Chuck Muth, town crier of the GOP’s new Assembly raucous caucus, lambasted Sandoval on behalf of his gang this week with a widely circulated blog headlined, “America’s Worst Republican Governor.”
Depending on whether they hold the line, and keep their voices raised to that deafening howl that has the state’s political establishment cringing, the Assembly right-wingers will be either tea party-style heroes or out-of-touch patsies. Odds are they’ll be frozen out of most of the adult discussions very soon.
With a nod during his address to former Democratic Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Sandoval’s strategy would appear to be to run to the left in order to forward what is at its heart a laudable agenda: a hint of reform with a healthy infusion of funding to help the school system climb toward a C-plus in the grade book.
Who knows, maybe it will work.
As a 35-year resident and a longtime observer of the Legislature’s biennial budget rugby, Hobbs, Ong & Associates President Guy Hobbs finds Sandoval’s passion for improving the public school system refreshing. But he’s also watched the state budget process long enough to know substantive changes to Nevada’s tax policy are much easier discussed than done.
“I think from the standpoint of biting off what you can chew, it’s a step in the right direction,” Hobbs said of the governor’s plan.
He’s right. And Hobbs was relieved to hear Sandoval’s realistic call to eliminate the “sunset” misnomer from a stop-gap business tax that has been on the books for more than a decade. Like Alaska in summer, this is an endless sunset.
Although Sandoval has what many consider substantial political capital — he would have had a lot more if he’d defeated a viable challenger last November — his legacy will surely depend on how hard he fights for the tax increases that will fuel promising programs for the army of at-risk students in our public schools.
This is precisely where his focus ought to be.
“In the 35 years I’ve lived here and watched all of this stuff develop, I don’t think there’s anybody, Republican or Democrat, that would with a straight face say they’re proud of the way the education system has performed here,” Hobbs says. “When you look at the numbers, it’s hard to be proud of some of those rankings. For Sandoval to bring that into the forefront is a very refreshing thing.”
Hobbs was on hand in 2003 when Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, also an education advocate, called for a big tax increase on behalf of public schools. He knows a lot can happen between the State of the State and the end of the session. So don’t be surprised if the increased business license fees plan morphs into another form of revenue generation.
A Republican governor just called for a substantial business tax increase and a new focus on improving public education.
Maybe that makes Sandoval a Democrat in spirit or a Republican in Name Only. But it also makes it clear he’s paying attention.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Email him atSmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Gov. Brian Sandoval is urging lawmakers to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes over two years to fund significant improvements in education he says are long overdue.
The Republican elected to a second-term in a landslide said in his “State of the State” address Thursday night that Nevada’s economy is steadily growing and diversifying after suffering through the Great Recession. But he says leaders still have work to do.
Sandoval proposed a two-year budget totaling about $7.3 billion. It includes about $1.14 billion in additional revenue, mostly in the form of business taxes. It also would increase the cigarette tax from 80 cents to $1.20 a pack.
He wants to spend $781 million more on schools and another $100 million on higher education.
CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval is expected to seek a new business license fee based on gross receipts to raise about $430 million over two years to pay for his proposals to improve public education in Nevada, the Review-Journal has learned.
The fee would be levied in 30 different business categories and would be in addition to the existing Modified Business Tax, or payroll tax. But one change said to be part of the tax plan would be to charge the mining industry the 2 percent payroll tax rate now charged to banks rather than the 1.17 percent rate assessed for most businesses.
In addition, Sandoval in his Thursday State of the State address is expected to ask businesses to file data with the Department of Taxation so the impact of a services tax could be analyzed. There would be no immediate plans to implement a tax on services, however.
A package of taxes set to expire on June 30 this year, generally referred to as the “sunset taxes,” would also continue for another two years and would bring in about $650 million. The package includes higher payroll taxes for the state’s largest employers, a 0.35 percentage point sales tax increase and a $100-a-year increase in the business license fee.
All told, about $1.2 billion in additional tax revenue would be generated in Sandoval’s tax plan, which will require a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature. Both houses are controlled by Republicans.
He will also need support from the business community, including retailers, mining and gaming, among others.
The additional funding would allow the governor to deal with other budget demands, including mental health and Medicaid, in addition to his focus on public and higher education.
With $1.2 billion in additional revenue, total general fund spending over two years would exceed $7 billion and would allow him to seek funding for projects such as the new medical school proposed at UNLV. The initial funding request is about $30 million for the project.
Sandoval will announce details of his 2015-17 budget, and how he wants to pay for it, in a statewide televised address at 6 p.m. Thursday.
While the revenue side of Sandoval’s new budget has been shrouded in mystery, the governor has made no secret that his priority for the new budget, and for the remainder of his new four-year term as governor, will be improving public education.
Sandoval has kept the details of how he will accomplish his goal secret as well, saying Tuesday only that he will present a “comprehensive” approach to improving education in his address.
“What I want to do is to identify a plan to improve the delivery of education in Nevada for the benefit of our K-12 students as well as higher education,” he said. “It’s going to be a comprehensive approach to education.”
But school choice, most likely through an opportunity scholarship program giving businesses a tax credit for contributing to a scholarship fund, is expected to be part of his overall plan. The money would be distributed on a means-tested basis, allowing students at low-performing schools to attend the school of their choice.
He is also expected to push for more charter schools as part of his reform plan.
But he also wants funding for efforts to ensure that students can read by third grade, with holding them back as an alternative, and for expansion of the “Teach for America” program to bring new teachers into the classroom.
Part of the reform plan is expected to include a new funding formula approved by an interim legislative committee over the summer. The recommendations are that the formula include at least 50 percent more in per pupil spending on students in poverty or with limited English proficiency.
The Clark County School District is expected to be the biggest beneficiary from the proposed change to the state public education funding formula because of its higher populations of the weighted groups.
Some lawmakers and policy groups argue that the state can fund critical needs while still living within its means.
The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think thank, says that if Sandoval and lawmakers pursue tax reform it should be on a revenue-neutral basis. Current tax revenues in Nevada are already more than adequate to provide high-quality government services, the group says.
But many others believe that short of some revenue producing changes to Nevada’s tax structure, it will be tough for Sandoval to follow through on his inaugural address theme of dedicating his next four years to helping Nevada’s schoolchildren succeed.
This includes Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who on Monday said he hopes to approve a plan by March that would raise new revenue for education.
“We are not funding education adequately in this state,” Roberson said.
“We cannot continue to be near the bottom of most rankings,” he added, referring to low graduation rates and other measures of Nevada students’ skills compared to other states. “We know we need education funding and education reform. … I know the governor will lead on this.”
Getting a tax plan through the Legislature is always a challenge, but it is even more so this year because of a divided Republican-controlled Assembly, which was handed the keys to power in a surprise sweep on Nov. 4. The 25-member GOP caucus has a “no tax” contingent and a more moderate group that is willing to consider new revenue as a way to balance the state budget.
The divisions have led to threats of recalls, ousters of conservatives from leadership roles in the Assembly and much bitterness.
But there is also a coalition of Democrats and some Republicans who want to increase funding for public education.
The legislative session begins Feb. 2 and is scheduled to conclude by June 1.
Anjeanette Damon of the Las Vegas Sun recently obtained emails showing that a troika of lobbyists/power-brokers overruled Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R&R-Partners) senior staff on one of the governor’s numerous betrayals of his “no tax hikes” pledge. This outrageous story shows that not only are Sandoval’s promises empty, so is his suit.
At issue is what has become known as the “More Cops” tax increase for Clark County. Voters approved half the hike in 2004, when Nevada still was in times of plenty. Indeed, recall that in 2005 tax revenues had come in so much higher than expected from the 2003 Mother of All Tax Hikes that then-Gov. Kenny Guinn actually issued tax rebates. Continue reading