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Sandoval proposes big tax increases for funding education

Governor Brian Sandoval

Governor Brian Sandoval is calling for more than a billion dollars in revenue to fund Nevada's education system. That was among the many ambitious proposals the governor laid out in his State of the State address last night. Reno Public Radio's Will Stone has more.

Listen to an extended interview with political analyst Fred Lokken who heads the political science department at Truckee Meadows Community College.

From the very first minutes, Governor  Brian Sandoval wasn't just speaking to today's Nevada, but to a future one, where education and the economy no longer hold the state back.

"Tonight we begin writing the next chapter," he said. "We must decide if that chapter is about getting through the next two years or creating a new Nevada for generations to come."

Given the governor's laundry list of reforms, that chapter could be long and hard-fought. With the state already facing a more than $150 million short fall, the governor is doubling down and asking for just under a billion dollars in new funding for education over the next two years. Most of that will go to K-12 initiatives to support English Language Learners, STEM education and full day kindergarten, which will be expanded to every school in the state.

How does he intend to pay for it?

"First, the so-called sunset taxes must be continued to cover basic expenditures."

That was the temporary tax package from 2009 that was extended but is set to expire later this year. The second way Sandoval plans to pay for this bump in education funding is:

"A broad based solution that asks Nevada businesses to invest. By modifying the existing business license fee to a graduated scale we will generate over $430 million in the next two years, funding equal to the investment in pre-K through 12th grade that I'm proposing."

Translation: fees for business licenses will no longer cost just $200, but will vary depending on the size of a business. Sandoval says he's explored every option and this is the fairest one. Along with K-12, about $100 million will go to higher education.

GOP leaders, like Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, have pledged their support. But a major increase in education funding wasn't the only education headline from Sandoval's speech. The governor intends to split up large, urban districts and consolidate smaller ones, expand charter schools, crack down on collective bargaining for teachers, tie bonuses to performance, and welcome back a face familiar to many in Washoe County.

"Far too many of our schools are persistently failing," Sandoval said. "We must draw a line in the sand and say 'No more.' I'm, therefore, requesting the creation of an achievement school district. This unique school district will manage failing schools without regard to location. I've asked former Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez to help with this initiative."

In another implicit reference to the Pedro Martinez debacle, the governor hopes to make school boards appointed, rather than elected.

Alongside that Northern Nevada news, the governor gave a Tesla-like announcement: the expansion of the Southern Nevada data storage company, Switch, to Northern Nevada, bringing more than a billion dollars in investment.

Despite the major tax increases, the governor did land on some familiar conservative refrains, like changing construction defect laws and reforming public employee retirement benefits. Those will not be welcomed by progressives.

In the Democratic response to the State of the State, House Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick also made it clear her party would fight any attempts to roll back collective bargaining.

"Unions are not the enemies," she said. "If Republicans in the legislature are going to forget that, and think they are going to slash the rights of workers, lower the minimum wage or create impossible working, we should realize that's no way forward."

While much of Kirkpatrick's speech was not responding to Sandoval's specific proposals, she did push for a bi-partisan effort to raise revenue, echoing the governor's.

"We cannot leave this session only having played partisan games and shuffled papers, while moving around newfound dollars as a result of budget gimmicks. That does nothing to move our state forward. Our work will require give and take on all sides."

And, with the Republicans holding the majority in both chambers, that give and take is just as relevant to the internal politics of Sandoval's party, particularly the GOP Assembly Caucus. That's been in turmoil since Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks was pressured to step down as speaker.

Still, Sandoval painted this upcoming session, sure to be messy and difficult, as an epic turning point in the state's history:

"We all want to tell our grandchildren that we were the architects of the new Nevada. That we were here when Nevada needed us most. Those before us rose to the challenge of their time."

And come February, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will have to decide whether they are on board with his vision.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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