Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 | 2:03 a.m.
Hickey's top three issues
1. Support the governor’s economic development and education initiatives
2. Negotiate for public cost-saving reforms
3. Examine restructuring Nevada’s tax system
The Sun's opinion page provides a wide range of opinion about the start of the 2013 Legislature.
From the Sun:
The Sun's editorial Break the status quo.
Brian Greenspun's "Where I Stand" column.
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Richard Bryan was among the first Nevada governors to challenge policymakers to end the state’s dependence on gaming and mining. Gov. Brian Sandoval apparently listened and has upped the ante by doubling down on economic diversification and education as the best bets for improving Nevada’s still-struggling economy.
The Legislature’s investment last session in Gov. Sandoval’s Catalyst Fund signaled the Silver State was serious about getting companies to bring high-quality primary jobs to Nevada. Las Vegas landed Switch Communications in the last decade, with its high-security data operations. Apple, with its planned $1 billion investment in a new data center in Reno, is a sure indicator that Nevada can attract new and different kinds of industry. IBM recently followed suit with a commitment to partner with the Desert Research Institute to use advanced research applications in the state’s higher education system.
Speaking of higher education, the governor’s proposed allocation for the Knowledge Fund to help partner commercial investment with education told America and the world, “Nevada is open for business,” and it’s not just for slot machines and gold mines.
As Assembly Speaker-to-be Marilyn Kirkpatrick recently said, “Nevada’s students don’t ask what political party their teachers are from.” Their hope is that the adults in the room will be just that — adults.
And so should legislators be. In the upcoming session, legislative leaders from both political parties have promised to set a new tone of bipartisan respect and cooperation. If Democrats, who are in leadership in both houses, decide they want to revamp, as promised, Nevada’s tax structure from “Day 2,” Republicans will come to the table with ears and minds open. However, if this session is truly to be marked by a new commitment to across-the-table problem-solving, Republicans must feel welcome to bring their recipes for policy and funding levels to this new “bipartisan buffet.”
In other words, if new revenues (taxes) are to be seriously considered for the public to spend, so too should public spending (reforms) be considered, for the public to save.
For example, the Washoe County School District has a dire need to find funding for renovations and repairs in its aging classrooms. The recession has shot a hole in local revenues, which make it impossible to bond from. The proposed solution involves new taxes on a cash-strapped public and on county property owners. The case for spending could more easily be made if union-engineered prevailing wage requirements could be suspended for those school refurbishments. In doing so, the district could save something like 25 cents on the dollar, thus getting more repairs for taxpayers’ bucks. For this to happen, Republicans would have to agree to “take” on taxes and Democrats to “give” on union wages. Never easy, but that is the kind of heavy lifting required to get deals done.
Another area where Republicans and Democrats can cooperate to both “spend” and “save” is with Medicaid. The proposed Medicaid expansion gives policymakers, in partnership with the governor, an opportunity to create pro-patient, pro-taxpayer Medicaid reforms that give patients better health outcomes through greater private and nonprofit options.
When lawmakers discuss strategy around the long tables in our Carson City caucus rooms, it should be to reflect on what each of us wants to be the legacy of the 77th session. If it’s true that we hear Americans have grown weary of the endless partisan squabbling resulting in gridlock and inaction, then why not contemplate charting a different course for ourselves in Nevada?
On Monday, we begin the legislative conversation. The public will be best served if along with all of our talking, we will, most importantly, also be listening.
Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, is the Assembly minority leader.