Skip Daly has represented residents living in eastern Sparks and the North Valleys for eight years, non-consecutively, in the Nevada Assembly. This year, he once again faces a challenge from Jill Dickman, the Republican who defeated him for a term in 2014. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly about his work in the legislature and his bid for reelection.
BOGER: What are some of the challenges that are cropping up in District 31, and what are you seeing across the state?
DALY: Yeah, well, the challenges facing the state obviously [have] been the COVID-19 [pandemic], and that's not just unique to District 31, obviously, and then the slowdown in the unemployment as a result of some of that. If we're going to try to get tourism and leisure back to the state as quickly as we can, I think we have to do that in a responsible way.
It's not just the people in Nevada, it's the visitors that need to feel safe if they're coming here. We could end up with a setback if we become a hotspot and then people don't come, or people have to be quarantined when they go back home. So, I think that's the overarching issue right now. Then the repercussions from that are going to be budget shortfalls, and how we deal with cuts versus looking for new revenue, so we don't minimize those cuts.
BOGER: I'm curious to get your take as a state lawmaker: How would you rate the state's response to the pandemic thus far?
DALY: Well, everybody's hindsight is 2020. I think the governor was listening to the best advice and experts that he could reach out to, and then was making a logical decision on what the next step was. I think always with safety of the citizens in Nevada, and not having people die from this disease, but overall, I think they were reasoned [logical] steps.
Then, as we came up with new concerns over what happens when people get unemployed, and they can't pay their rent, and we have the eviction notices over, and then what happens when unemployment breaks down, right? How do we try to address that? Which was part of the challenges that we all face there. I think we're finally coming out of that, getting to the end of the backlog there. Overall, I think the governor was making his decisions based on the health and safety of Nevadans first.
BOGER: Earlier this summer, lawmakers cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget to address a roughly $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Large cuts came out of K-12 education and higher education, as well as Medicaid. What did you think of those remedies to address the shortfall, and what can be done to address those issues in the future?
DALY: We've always had these ups and downs based on part of our economy. I think we've done a pretty good job in the last few years to diversify, so, yeah, the system in the special session was basically similar to a regular session, [in] that we had a committee. We had the Ways and Means Committee, the people that are most familiar with all of this stuff in both houses, and their staff people, and then the input from people at the highest level, and the governor, to try to say, ‘How is it best that we can address these issues?’
Then, of course, the governor has a recommendation, just like a regular session, and the legislature made some adjustments to do those recommendations. We prioritize the various things between the two houses. We wanted to try to not do everything on the back of state employees.
We knew that there was no area of state government that was going to come out of this untouched. That's the truth of the matter there, so, all in all, I think we did a pretty good job to try to keep as much money in the priority areas, [like] health and human services. Some of the cuts to mental health and those types of things are brutal. It's unfortunate, but it was necessary to balance the budget per the state constitution.
So, going forward, when we come back next session, we go through that process again, the usual thing, and in the meantime, I'm hoping we can find ways to shore up the shortfalls with additional revenue. There'll be a myriad of proposals and things that could be out there. Do I have any specific idea of what it will be? I do not. I know there's talks with the mining industry right now, and there were the three resolutions passed in the second discussion section.
BOGER: Those were kind of the key areas that Democratic leaders look to for possible new revenue in the future. Would you support or oppose those increases on mining?
DALY: The three resolutions... eventually it's going to go and have a vote of the people. So, I think the three resolutions were put in so we have options as the negotiations go forward. I think that talks with the mining industry on where they can find a measure that they can support, I think would be the key to making that happen. If mining is in support of it, being the industry that's going to be taxed, and it can get through the next session to get on the ballot without opposition, it's got a pretty good chance of passing. It's just a matter of finding that right balance that cannot make everybody happy necessarily but can satisfy the needs of all concerned.
BOGER: On that same front, there has been this ongoing conversation for years, from what I understand, of possibly revisiting the state's property tax structure. At this point, would you support going into the session possibly looking at property taxes?
DALY: Well, I would say it this way. If you did a “Man on the Street” question, and you talked to a hundred people, I don't care what city in the state of Nevada that you’re on, you ask them, ‘Do they understand, or could they even explain to you on a baseline level, of how property tax works in Nevada?’ I would challenge you to get three people that could answer that question.
We have a terribly complicated system. We have artificial limitations that we have put in through legislation like the $3.66 cap per a hundred dollars of value versus the $5 constitutional limit. We only tax on assessed value rather than market value. We have the depreciation provisions that basically create sprawl. So, [the] house in the older part of town where I live [that] has fully depreciated pays a lot less tax than a new house out in Wingfield Springs.
Those [are] all things [that] need to be addressed and I think should be made more equitable on some levels, but as soon as you say, ‘Oh, property tax,’ people [go] into a tailspin, largely because they don't understand how it already works. There could be benefits by some revisions in modernization, in changing the way it's calculated in the first place. So, I think it would be more equitable, actually, to do that. You just have to get past people's phobia of even discussing [it].
BOGER: Nevada's K-12 system has consistently ranked among the lowest in the country. As a lawmaker, you've been in these sessions talking about these educational issues. What needs to be done at this point? What should lawmakers be doing to improve the state's public schools?
DALY: Well, we were on the track of making some significant improvements. Back to my first session, one year there was a bill put in by then Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, right now to be Senator, to make sure we have a quality teacher in every classroom. There was a peer review system that was set up. There was some resistance to that, but I think now that it's in place and the various things we have... we have a better process to make sure we have a quality teacher in every classroom, and that we're giving them the tools they need to be successful. If they're not measuring up it's easier to have that teacher replaced.
Then we did some of the per-pupil funding and the Zoom schools. We had learned, I think the legislature over a period of time, is that we can't just give money to the school boards. So, we earmarked it to say, ‘Hey, we need to make sure that we're not leaving any students behind.’ So, there was funding to get extra teachers in the classroom if there were at-risk students for a variety of reasons, whether it was a language issue or a disability issue. [We] also tried to change what we do to meet the gifted and talented needs.
So, we're taking care of all of the students regardless of their academic level. I think we were on track to do that. I mean, we got... I think there's a direct correlation, same as almost any other profession, you get what you pay for, and I think teachers are underpaid. We worked really hard last session to try to increase that pay. Then, the cuts came, and we slid back and folded on that. So, I think if we can get some of those things, and you actually get the new funding formula that we put in, which I think can work, funded at the proper levels, we can make significant progress. But we've got to stick to the effort and stay the course, and not give up and just say, ‘Well, we haven't made any improvements, so it was all for nothing.’ I have a different attitude, as you have. You have to continually push to make the changes that you're fighting for. If we do that, I think we can be successful.
BOGER: At this point, I'm curious to know, what do you think voters should know about you as a candidate, or as a person, before they cast their ballot?
DALY: Yeah, well, I think it's [an] interesting thing. You run a whole campaign trying to get information out to the voters. So, it's not just one thing, but I think if I had to narrow it down to one thing, is that I'm going to try to be as thoughtful and careful about the decisions that are made, [and] get as much information as [I] can. I've said this to people at the door, ‘Get information from all sides.’ Then, when you're making your decision, try to do it in a fashion where you're going to help the most amount of people, the most amount of the time. Do the most amount of good for as many people as you can. Usually, if you're making that decision based on that, you're going to come out okay. So, be thoughtful, and try to make the best decision that you can.