Election 2014: 3 vie to replace Pete Livermore in state Assembly | NevadaAppeal.com

Election 2014: 3 vie to replace Pete Livermore in state Assembly

Philip “PK” O’Neill
Lisa J. Tolda |

All three candidates for Assembly District 40 say they want to dramatically change Nevada’s tax structure and budget.

They have different approaches to how to do that.

In a nutshell, Republican P.K. O’Neill says Nevada’s tax structure needs to be made much more stable to stop the boom and crash cycle.

“Our ups and downs have been way too extreme,” he said.

But he added he wants a plan that is revenue neutral, without raising taxes.

Democrat Dave Cook says that just won’t work.

“You can’t not talk about finding new funding; that’s insane,” he said. “It’s not realistic anymore.”

He said simply the state needs more revenue to meet its needs.

John Wagner, state chairman of the Independent American Party, agreed the tax system and budget process must change. But he said he favors zero-based budgeting in which agencies must prove each cycle exactly what they need and, based on performance, what they deserve.

“Right now it’s what you got last time and what you want this time and we’ll split the difference,” he said. “I don’t think they need all they claim they do.”

The three are vying to replace Carson City’s Pete Livermore who served two terms in the Assembly. He’s retiring.

None of the three believes voters should pass the margins tax.

O’Neill is a 40 year veteran of law enforcement making his first run for elective office. He retired as head of public safety’s records and technology division — basically the criminal history repository — which handles all the criminal and other identification information law enforcement needs as well as background checks for a laundry list of professions from teachers to doctors and health providers. After more than one session appearing and testifying before lawmakers on public safety issues, he said he has a good understanding of what it takes to be a lawmaker and good relations with many members.

He said Nevada’s tax structure needs stability and there have been enough studies.

“I think and I’m hoping that we have come to the realization that we cannot continue doing things the way we’re doing them,” he said adding he hopes Gov. Brian Sandoval brings a plan to the table as he has said he will do.

Cook retired as a professor at Western Nevada College with some 25 years in public service.

He said the state needs more money but can’t just fall back on more property and sales taxes because those put pressure on ordinary citizens.

“It’s time for others to bear the load,” he said pointing at the mining industry.

But he said the real plan is a tax on interstate chain stores which are already paying other states a corporate tax, yet charging the same for goods in Nevada as they do in those states. He said California collects 8.4 percent while Nevada takes nothing. He said he envisions a tax that allows for the cost of goods sold and operating expenses but little else so Nevada gets an influx of money.

Wagner said by cutting waste from state government, the temporary sunsetted tax increases used to balance the current budget could go away and increase disposable income of Nevada residents, which he said would feed the economy and generate more revenue down the road.

O’Neill said Nevada needs to beef up veterans programs, providing employment opportunities and education. He said that should include recognizing their military training to let veterans take abbreviated classes and providing other services to help them integrate back into society.

He said education needs to be enhanced at all levels but that, “I don’t think just giving money to education has ever solved an issue.”

O’Neill especially focused on the need to support community colleges — particularly Western Nevada College. He and Cook called for a vice-chancellor’s position to support community colleges and help them work with business to provide the trained technical workforce needed by companies such as Tesla Motor Company.

But Cook said that doesn’t solve the funding problem.

“I’m not a person who is just concerned about education but that’s such a huge part of the budget,” the Nevada State Board of Education member said.

Both men called for improvements to senior services with O’Neill pointing out in his years in law enforcement he has seen how seniors are “physically, emotionally and financially abused.” He said he will propose statutory law changes to help fix some of those issues.

One issue in which both Cook and O’Neill agreed is the reductions in pay and benefits suffered by state workers during the recession must be dealt with. Both said they deserve to have those cuts restored.

“They have foregone a variety of benefits for the last six years and I truly believe it’s time we recognized and restored them,” said O’Neill.

Cook went further calling for collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Wagner said some of what’s wrong with higher education could be fixed by making professors teach more and focus less on research.

“How much research does an English professor need to do,” he asked.

And he raised a long-standing IAP issue — getting the federal government to release the 86 percent of Nevada lands it controls to the state. He said eastern states don’t have huge blocks of federal land and neither should those in the West.