Carson City’s legislators defended their votes including on tax increases Tuesday morning before a mostly friendly crowd of about 50 at the Silver Oak meeting center.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, walked them through a laundry list of successes including extensive education reforms he said provide parents with reform, choice and investment. He said bills providing parents with Educational Savings Accounts, creating Opportunity Scholarships, funding English Language Learner programs, gifted and talented programs, Victory schools in poor neighborhoods and others provide “significantly greater accountability” in the education system.
“All of this money is walled off,” he said. “It can’t be collectively bargained.”
He added all those new programs and spending also come with significant measures, mostly by independent evaluators, to make sure they are actually working.
Kieckhefer said he will expect the vast majority of the metrics used to measure how well those programs are doing “will be based on student outcomes.” The ineffective programs, he said, will be changed in the next legislative session.
He and P.K. O’Neill, R-Carson City, also cited significant changes to construction defects, collective bargaining, the Public Employee Retirement System and prevailing wage laws as achievements during session, the first session in 30 years with both houses controlled by Republicans.
But they were challenged by at least one audience member, who said they were being treated as “pariahs” by members of the Republican party for supporting the tax increases needed to pay for all those programs — particularly the “commerce tax.”
“There are groups of people that are not happy with me,” said Kieckhefer. “But I will say the vast majority of feedback is very positive. If a small number of people want to run a recall on me, bring it on.”
O’Neill said he was hired by voters to “make the tough choices” and he voted for what he thought was best for the state. He said if those voters decide they don’t like what he did, they can decide next year whether to bring him back for a second term.
The focus of those protests was the so-called “commerce tax” on businesses which opponents compared to the Question 3 margins tax what was defeated by voters last November.
Kieckhefer said there are vast differences between the two, especially that the ballot question plan would have raised $800 million a year while the commerce tax nets just $60 million. To the objection that different businesses will pay different rates, he said, “Yeah, people are getting taxed at different rates because businesses are different.”
He said the tax is going to be cleaned up as the kinks in it are discovered.
O’Neill said the defeated ballot question would have put all that money into the pot of education money that could be claimed for teacher pay raises but the budget passed by lawmakers puts it specifically into programs designed to improve education.
“I’m not on the defensive with anything I did,” said Kieckhefer.
The two will make another appearance together today before the monthly meeting of the Northern Nevada Development Authority and can expect similar questions about their votes during the 2015 Legislature.