Assembly District 40 Republicans tackle education, taxes at debate

The four candidates running for the Republican nominee for Assembly District 40, from left, Sam England, Chris Forbush, Al Kramer and PK O'Neill answer questions at a forum on Tuesday night.

The four candidates running for the Republican nominee for Assembly District 40, from left, Sam England, Chris Forbush, Al Kramer and PK O'Neill answer questions at a forum on Tuesday night.

Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill strongly disagreed with claims by his three primary opponents Tuesday night the votes he and others cast during the 2015 Legislature seriously damaged Nevada as a business friendly state.

He and the others were featured at the Carson City Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum in the Brewery Arts Center. But the four faced a much smaller audience than the candidates for Carson City Mayor who preceded them. When that part of the forum ended, portions of the audience left.

O’Neill said Nevada is still ranked as the fifth most business friendly state and seventh in the lowest personal taxes.

“Businesses are coming here, businesses are expanding,” he said.

Former Carson City Treasurer Al Kramer said the most important issue in the 2017 Legislature “is trying to get Nevada back the reputation of being a business friendly state.”

He said Nevada is at a “tipping point where people think Nevada is not the best place to come to anymore.” Kramer said some business fees have literally doubled, making Nevada much less attractive to businesses.

“If I were to start my company today, I wouldn’t do it in Nevada,” said Chris Forbush, who graduated law school a year ago and brought his legal practice to Nevada from Utah.

He and Sam England both said a key problem is the commerce tax passed as part of the governor’s tax package for education in 2015. England said repealing that tax is his top priority for the next Legislature because it violated the will of voters who rejected a similar tax in the last election.

Forbush said the petition drive is the only way to repeal that tax because lawmakers won’t do it. He mistakenly told the crowd education won’t need more money because the commerce tax would bring in $1.3 billion. In fact, the commerce tax is just $120 million of that total tax package.

O’Neill drew those three opponents in large part because he voted for the education programs and the tax package to pay for them. He said the businessmen both large and small he has talked to say the tax climate isn’t the problem; he said finding trained, skilled workers is the big issue. He said several businessmen have told him they have more work than they can do unless they find more workers.

“Businesses say taxes aren’t the problem. The problem is education,” he said adding he’s proud of backing those measures in the 2015 session.

He said not only did the 2015 Legislature create a variety of grant programs to improve the K-12 system, it put accountability measures into those programs so they can see in 2017 what’s working and what isn’t. And he said the university funding formula is again being revised to recognize the sometimes high cost of providing specialized high-tech training for workers at the community colleges.

Forbush said Nevada can get additional tax revenue without increasing the tax rate but by increasing the base. He said he signed the anti-tax pledge but if there was no way to take care of a need except to add another tax, he would present that to his constituents and do what ever they told him to do.

Kramer said he believes one problem with K-12 education is the lack of involvement by parents in their kids’ education. He said current and former teachers tell him the problem is “parents just sending them off to essentially be babysat all day.”

England said the problem isn’t the amount of money but the way it’s being spent. He said that’s why the Educational Savings Accounts — vouchers program — is so important because, “It interjects the free market into the schools.” He said that will dramatically improve results while lowering cost because of free market principles.

Early voting for the primary election begins Saturday at the Carson City Courthouse from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The primary election is Tuesday, June 14.

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