While legislative candidates in Western Nevada agree taxes and financial needs will drive the 2003 Legislature, each has a number of other issues they see as vital to their districts as well.
Candidates in Assembly Districts 38 and 40 as well as the Capital Senatorial District and Senate District 4 are all on the program beginning at 7 p.m. Monday in the Carson City Community Center.
The sharpest difference on the tax issue is in the race for Capital's District 40, where Democrat Stacie Wilke is running against Republican Ron Knecht to replace Bonnie Parnell, a Democrat who decided not to seek re-election.
Knecht said he doesn't believe new taxes are needed, and more savings can be found to balance the state budget by eliminating waste.
"I want to wait and see what the actual shortfall is rather than reacting prematurely," he said. Knecht said doesn't believe hard numbers have been presented showing what the state needs.
Gov. Kenny Guinn and his budget staff have said that shortfall will approach $300 million by the end of this fiscal year.
Wilke, who has served on the Carson School Board and Parks and Recreation Commission, said she believes more revenue is needed. She said the state needs to diversify its base instead of continuing to rely on gaming and sales taxes.
"We need a more stable tax base for our revenues," she said.
Knecht said he will "do everything in my power to hold the line on taxes" if elected.
Wilke said she also sees a wide variety of other needs in Carson City.
"I've been here all my life and I've seen how Carson City has grown from a little town to an urban area," she said. "I know how long we've been waiting for a freeway. My dad talked about a freeway when he worked for the highway department in the 1960s."
Knecht said one thing he intends to protect at all costs is the integrity of the public employee retirement system. He said any attempt to raid that fund for economic development or any other reason must be blocked.
In what is expected to be a tight race for veteran Assembly Speaker Joe Dini's old District 38 seat, his son George Dini, also a Democrat, is facing former Yerington Mayor Tom Grady, a Republican.
"Everybody by now understands that with the budget deficit we have of $300 million, we really have to look at how we do business," said Dini. "I think they've cut back enough. They need some new revenues."
He said how those new burdens are distributed is the issue.
"It'll be a real legislative tussle but I think the voice of the small business people hasn't really been heard. They've told me they're all scared any tax increase will put them under."
Grady too said more revenue is necessary and that how the burden is handled is the key argument. But he said services for seniors, the indigent and others must be provided for and not simply dumped on local government.
"It's become a vicious circle that we have to find some answers to."
Both men said there are numerous other issues in the district.
Grady said with the Carson, Truckee and Walker Rivers running through District 38 and an extended drought hurting farms and all other users, water issues are critical. And he said the public employees state health insurance, in financial trouble for the second time in four years, will be a big issue. This time, he said, they must fix the problem.
Dini too cited water issues, but said traffic problems in Dayton, Fernley and other areas need immediate attention.
He said seniors and public employees must be protected and provided for, but added that he believes young people are under represented.
"I never hear anybody talk about the younger generation and their financial problems, what's good for them and their families," he said.
Dini said legislation is needed on the subject of construction defects to prevent Nevada contractors from being driven out of business in the state.
"They should have the first right to fix the problems," he said.
Sen. Mark Amodei, the Republican incumbent in the Capital District, said public employee health benefits, retiree health care and health care for non-state workers are all vital issues but that everything hangs on the tax questions.
"The problem is polls indicate somewhere around two-thirds of people do not favor having their taxes increased by 100 percent of the people have a serious desire to see increased funding for senior programs, education, you name it."
His opponent, Independent American David Schumann, said there's no need to increase taxes. He said there are places to cut back state government and that, when the state gets to the point where more cash is needed, they can get it by taking control of the 90 percent of Nevada now held by the federal government. He said claiming that land "can bring in billions of dollars in income" from grazing fees, mining and other activities.
He said teachers claim their pay is to blame for low scores by students, but he cited an American Federation of Teachers study saying Nevada's teachers are paid 12th best of any state in the country.
"Nevada is no worse than any other state," he said. "The nation is doing a lousy job in education."
According to Schumann, the answer is school choice, letting parents take their share of school funding to private schools that can do the job.
Like Amodei, Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, is facing an Independent American, but no Democrat in the Senate District 4 race. Townsend and Mark Holloman are expected to participate in the debates.