The three candidates for Assembly District 40, which includes most of Carson City, met for their first forum of the campaign season Monday, predictably saying they want to balance the budget without new or higher taxes.
But there were significant differences between Incumbent Democrat Bonnie Parnell, Republican Cheryl Lau and Independent American John Wagner.
Wagner, a longtime anti-big government activist, and Lau, the former Nevada secretary of state, were adamant on the tax issue with Wagner repeating "No, no, no," to several questions about taxes.
"I think we're going to have to do the same that you and I do when we have a budget crisis," said Wagner.
He called for a "Grace Commission" to review every function of government and eliminate all those that aren't absolutely necessary saying that process saved New Zealand millions.
Lau said she opposes new taxes and believes the state can make substantial savings through elimination of waste, which she said the governor is attempting with his SAGE commission study.
But she proposed raising money to help fund education by instituting a weight and distance system of licensing commercial trucking in the state, which would actually be a new tax. And normally, weight-distance and other highway taxes are dedicated as highway fund money and can't be used for general fund agencies.
She said she is also interested in Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki's idea of securitizing the $1.2 billion the state is owed from the tobacco settlement over the next 20 years in trade for a one-time $600 million payment that could be used to balance the budget.
"I sometimes wonder if giving up $1.2 billion to get $600 million is kind of like taking out a payday loan," said Parnell.
And Wagner said he opposes that because it would take away the money now funding the millennium scholarship, which many high school students are relying on to get to college.
Wagner said no one wants to talk about layoffs in state agencies or education but that, "we may have to bite the bullet." He suggested government "may have to consider cutting back the library, maybe the swimming pool."
But Parnell drew applause from the crowd of more than 100 at Western Nevada College when she said that, "in economic times like this when people can't go on trips, that's when they need swimming pools open."
Lau suggested agencies could cut back hours employees work instead of layoffs.
All three said they oppose raising business taxes with Lau saying she believes they should be reduced "in better times."
"This is not the time to raise taxes," said Parnell. But she added that signing "any pledge that says you're going to do this no matter what is irresponsible."
Wagner said raising a business tax would hurt people, "because businesses only collect the taxes and pass them along to us or the employee won't get a raise this year."
Parnell said anything that hurts business would hurt the city and she would oppose "a substantial tax on business."
And they also said they oppose the idea of a blanket increase in the gaming tax.
"It's almost like you kill the goose that laid the golden egg," said Lau.
The chamber of commerce sponsored the event. The three candidates are expected to meet in several other forums before the election.
- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.