Controller Ron Knecht and his Democratic opponent Catherine Byrne disagreed sharply on whether that office should be involved in political policy issues.
Knecht proudly told the candidate forum Tuesday that he has, “been leading the effort to repeal the commerce tax and we will do so in the next three years.”
He described that tax, which is projected to generate some $300 million for K-12 education, as “destructive and pernicious.”
Byrne said as a Certified Public Accountant, she believes the controller’s office should be professional and nonpartisan.
“It doesn’t serve the office well to act more in a political way,” she said. “I won’t use this office as a place to promote my political agenda.”
The commerce tax is a gross receipts tax on businesses that make more than $4 million a year. It was approved by lawmakers and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to help pump more cash into K-12 education.
But Knecht argued that repealing the commerce tax wouldn’t reduce education funding. He said that, contrary to claims by educators and others, Nevada is not last in the nation in educational funding.
“It’s more like 42nd or 43rd,” he said drawing reactions from some in the audience of more than 40 at the Brewery Arts Center.
They also disagreed on the subject of the Public Employees Retirement System. Knecht said he attempted to advise PERS to dramatically lower investment earning projections that he described as “way too optimistic.”
“They need to get realistic so that a few years down the road we don’t put employees and the state in a bind,” he said.
Byrne pointed out that, aside from making recommendations, the controller has little or no control over PERS.
“It’s run rather well,” she said. “We need to strengthen PERS by not beating up on it.”
Knecht touted his achievements over the past four years saying he cut the office’s spending 13.3 percent and returned over $1 million to the state treasury and increased debt collections by $1.3 million a year.
Byrne said she hasn’t seen those millions returned to the treasury.
No candidates for Attorney General attended the forum. Both Republican Wes Duncan and Democrat Aaron Ford said they had prior commitments that prevented their attendance.
The same was true of Bob Beers and Zach Conine running for Treasurer as well as incumbent Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, all of Las Vegas.
But Cegavske’s Democratic opponent Assemblyman Nelson Araujo did attend saying his top goal in that office will be expanding the opportunities for Nevadans to vote.
“I don’t care about your party affiliation,” he said. “I care that if you’re a Nevadan, you have the opportunity to sign up, vote and have that vote counted.”
He said he supports expanding early voting and same day registration — two places he said he and Cegavske disagree.
Araujo said he believes Nevada has some of the best county registrars in the nation protecting the integrity of the state’s elections and that he would work with them, looking at new and innovative technologies to ensure the elections are secure.
Araujo said he also wants to streamline Nevada’s business licensing processes which currently make small businesses go through a “tedious” process at the state level then go through the same red tape in county offices. He said he would work with local officials to streamline and clean up those processes to make it much easier for businesses.
Lieutenant Governor candidate Kate Marshall, the former state treasurer, was also alone in attending. Organizers of the event said Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, her Republican opponent, declined the invitation to attend.
Marshall, a Democrat, said she wants to work on some of the problems with economic development.
“We see economic numbers growing and people’s opportunities should be growing with it,” she said. “The truth of the matter in Nevada in straight numbers is we had a higher average income before (the recession) than we do now, higher per pupil spending than before the recession than we do now.”
Marshall said the lieutenant governor should work to support the business community, “but also support it in such a way that it results in economic growth accessible by your average Nevadan.”
“Tax credits need to be tied much harder and stronger to wages and the workforce,” she said.
The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women,, Partnership Carson City, Carson City Arts and Culture coalition, radio KNVC, Sierra Nevada Forums and PFLAG.
The candidate forums will resume next Monday and Tuesday with local office races and then legislative races.