Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis have opened a discussion on overhauling the state’s antiquated tax system. During a news conference Tuesday, the leaders were pressed on whether the Legislature would once again kick the can down the road, as it has in past attempts. Both leaders expressed optimism and said they were pushing for change.
Denis said this is the “perfect” time for Nevada lawmakers to make the tough decisions because of the state’s ongoing financial crisis. “When we’re doing really well, nobody wants to talk about this stuff, (nor) when we’re doing really bad,” he said.
During a meeting with the Sun’s editorial board, Kirkpatrick agreed, saying there is a sense in the Legislative Building that there is momentum for change.
“We’re in a unique position in our state,” Kirkpatrick said. “Like Mo said, we’re not doing really well, we’re not doing really bad. It’s the time to come in and restructure things.”
Denis and Kirkpatrick are correct not only about the need to restructure the tax system, as we have noted before, but also in their assessment of the situation in Carson City. This year is ripe for the Legislature to take on not only taxes but also some of Nevada’s underlying problems.
That hasn’t always been the case. During the state’s boom times, political leaders didn’t deal with the challenges because there wasn’t a pressing need. During the recession, all anyone could do was just hang on.
Now, lawmakers should have a good perspective.
“We’ve cut a lot of things,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’ve cut education. We’ve cut mental health services. We’ve cut public safety. We’ve cut highway dollars. So we have to look at where we want to be.”
Indeed, this is the time to reassess and set a new course. And the Legislature is facing no shortage of issues. For example, issues before the Legislature last week included:
• Taxes: It’s clear the system is broken — some businesses go virtually untaxed while others shoulder the burden. The state’s tax code doesn’t provide stability, much less clarity, in many parts. The Legislature has seen many plans over the years but has yet to act decisively. What’s lacking is political willpower to get anything done.
• Higher education: Several lawmakers expressed concern about a plan to change the way state funds higher education. Rural and northern critics complained that the plan cuts budgets for rural community colleges and wanted campuses to be “held harmless.” Southern Nevada lawmakers questioned whether campuses in Clark County were getting the short end of the deal. From all we’ve seen, the proposal doesn’t adequately address longtime funding disparities, nor does it boost education funding to where it should be.
• Mental health: Lawmakers heard testimony last week about how easy it is for someone with a mental illness to get a gun. Overall, the state’s mental health system needs a shot in the arm.
In coming weeks, lawmakers will hear more about these issues as well as others. Given the problems facing Nevada, they should take advantage of this time.
They’re off to a good start, but they’ll have to use every minute. Just two weeks in, the Legislature is already done with a little more than 10 percent of its session. This is the time for lawmakers to make bold, important decisions to set the state on the proper course. The clock is ticking.