Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
Tax hikes will replace crime as the hot topic at the 1997 legislative session.
Las Vegas gaming and business executives have been discussing possible new taxes to fund new schools, roads and sewers. They hope that by brokering a small increase going into the session they can avert a move by the Legislature to raise taxes by a large amount.
The decision whether to raise taxes may be decided in the state Senate, where Republicans, usually the anti-tax party, holds a 13-8 advantage.
If Republican control continues, which seems likely, they will dominate the tax debate. The Democrats need a net gain of three seats to take back the Senate for the first time since 1991.
But there may not be much debate if casino executives, developers and others agree to self-imposed a tax hike.
"If a special-interest group wants to self-impose a tax, and there's a need, why not?" asked Sue Lowden, chairwoman last session of the Senate Taxation Committee who normally takes a hard-line stance against taxes.
Either way, Clark County residents will have a major voice in the outcome, because they'll decide the fate of seven of the Senate's 21 seats on Nov. 5.
Spokesmen from both parties have been busy in past weeks putting a favorable spin on why voters should choose their candidates.
Mark Jolley, executive director of the Senate Republican Leadership Conference, said voters can expect GOP candidates to lower taxes and to write crime-fighting bills.
He noted that the Republican-led Senate helped to decrease or eliminate 20 taxes. When the Democrats had control of the Senate in 1991, 16 taxes were created or raised, and only seven were decreased or eliminated, he said.
"That is going to be a fundamental difference between the two parties in the Legislature," Jolley said. "Taxing and spending is going to be a big issue."
Lindsey Jydstrup, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Caucus, expressed confidence that her party could win back the Senate. But she said the individual nature of each race makes it impossible to pick an overriding issue that will determine the outcome of the election.
She said voters should choose Democrats because they have a better understanding of issues affecting the average person.
"I think you've got a group of people in Senate Democrats who are concerned with the problems of working people and families," Jydstrup said. "They understand people who try to find extra time to be with their children. They want to make sure their kids have the ability to read and write."
Jolley and Jydstrup agreed that it's too early to tell how Republicans and Democrats will vote on growth-related issues, since specific proposals aren't on the table. They also agreed that the 1997 Legislature will have its hands full determining how Nevada should run welfare programs and how the state will finance programs formerly propped up by federal government.
Voters will choose the following candidates, all of whom are vying for four-year terms:
n District 2 -- Three-term incumbent Sen. Ray Shaffer, D-North Las Vegas is being challenged by Republican Terry Holtz and Libertarian Craig Kuntz.
A member of the Senate Commerce and Labor, Government Affairs and Transportation committees, Shaffer has supported the idea of bounty hunters to identify new residents who don't register their cars within 45 days of moving to Nevada.
He also has sought to create a "constitutional defense council" to promote the state's sovereignty over issues that affect Nevada. Shaffer also has sided with Clark County in its legislative battle with Las Vegas and other municipalities over tax distribution.
Shaffer, a 63-year-old retiree who was director of the North Las Vegas Building Department, believes the most important issue facing the Legislature next year will be preparing for programs that will be shifted from federal control to the state.
During the 1995 legislative session, he often was on the losing end of committee votes supported by the Republican majority. Examples included his opposition to stripping Democratic Gov. Bob Miller of his authority over the State Industrial Insurance System and freezing increased benefits for injured workers.
Shaffer also led all legislators last year in the dollar amount of meals he received from lobbyists.
Holtz, a 49-year-old convenience store owner, has served as president of the 7-Eleven Franchise Owners Association of Southern Nevada. He also was a Nevada delegate to a White House Conference on Small Business.
He supports welfare reform, arguing that the state pays too much for these programs. He also has fought for more liberal regulations for the owners of franchised stores, something Shaffer opposes.
Holtz has raised concerns about a new state law that allows for criminal penalties of up to $500 against clerks who sell tobacco to customers under 18. He has said clerks can make mistakes and has suggested that sting operations may be designed to trick employees.
The Republican also would limit the number of lawsuits an inmate could file and would eliminate needless state boards and commissions. He also wants to crack down on juveniles who commit crimes, arguing that violent youths should not be allowed to plea bargain or accept probation and should be treated as adults.
Kuntz could not be reached for comment.
There are about 7,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district.
n District 3 -- Freshman Sen. Sue Lowden, R-Las Vegas, will face Democrat Valerie Wiener and Natural Law candidate Janice Williams.
Lowden, the 44-year-old co-owner of the Santa Fe hotel-casino and former TV anchor, chairs the Senate Taxation Committee. She also sits on the Commerce and Labor, and Human Resources and Facilities committees.
She's also been controversial almost from the time she took office.
Lowden irritated Southern Nevada Republicans by casting the swing vote in 1993 that made fellow Santa Fe executive and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee over Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas. That's the key committee in the upper chamber that determines how state money is spent.
She's also been despised by Culinary Union Local 226, which represents hotel workers and is the most powerful labor force in Las Vegas. The union has criticized her for her votes to reform the State Industrial Insurance System and because her casino has fought efforts by workers to organize there.
Lowden counters that the union has harassed her by picketing her home and threatened her to the point where she had to transfer her children to another school.
Lowden also brushes aside the Culinary attacks on her record, noting that the SIIS reforms she supported were also backed by Democrats, including Gov. Bob Miller. She's also been tabbed a "friendly incumbent" by the State of Nevada Employees Association, one of two labor unions that represent state workers.
Among her priorities are the establishment of a veterans' home in Southern Nevada and cooperation by gaming executives and homebuilders to fund road and sewer construction to meet growth needs in the Clark County.
During the last legislative session, Lowden favored allowing parents to enroll their children in school, even if they weren't immunized, and a two-year freeze on increases in injured workers' benefits. She also favored repealing a law forcing insurers to pay taxes on premiums before collecting the money. Lowden also has said she supports charter schools.
Wiener, the 47-year-old author and owner of a public relations company, is the daughter of the late Louis Wiener, one of the city's most renowned lawyers. She was heavily recruited by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, to be part of a Democratic "dream team" of Senate candidates.
Wiener prides herself as an expert on gangs and youth relationships. She would like to see the creation of more jobs that pay well enough to support a family, and she favors increased community policing, harsher punishment for repeat juvenile offenders and more home care to enable seniors to live independently.
She also supports the proposed constitutional amendment to protect the Public Employee Retirement System from raids by the state government and increased prenatal and postnatal care.
Williams declined to comment on her campaign.
The district has about 8,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
n District 4 -- Six-term incumbent Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, who has served in the Legislature longer than any other current lawmaker from Southern Nevada, has opposition from North Las Vegas Republican David Wallace.
Neal, a 61-year-old retiree who worked at Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Co., believes the 1997 Legislature will have to study equalizing the tax base and tackle growth issues. He also wants to improve consumer protection laws.
Neal often is one of the most outspoken members of the Legislature. A frequent critic of Metro Police, the alleges some officers mistreat blacks and even once alleged that the department was under Mormon influence. He also has chided medical organizations for failing to contract with black doctors to treat injured workers.
In th past, he has supported the proposed high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, but Neal now he says he's opposed. Reynolds Electrical, his former employer, used to be the largest private contractor at the Nevada Test Site. Neal also has opposed death penalty legislation and unsuccessfully fought last year against a freeze on increased benefits for injured workers.
Neal can also be unpredictable. He supported a 1993 bill to force teenage girls to notify their parents before having an abortion after opposing similar legislation in 1985. Neal also believes pensions for legislators should be increased, a stand most lawmakers avoid because the issue is unpopular. Many lawmakers who supported a 300 percent pension increase in 1989 -- a vote subsequently repealed -- were voted out of office.
Neal's committee assignments include Commerce and Labor, Human Resources and Facilities, and Transportation.
Wallace, who has run unsuccessfully for the Legislature in the past, was unavailable for comment. But he has opposed the dumping of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain and has wanted to limit pay and pension raises for incoming elected officials.
There are about 10,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in this district. That's the greatest Democratic plurality in Clark County.
n District 5 -- Three-term incumbent Sen. Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas, is running against Democrat Steve Sisolak and Libertarian Tim Hagan.
The owner of Christian book stores and a small downtown hotel, the 61-year-old O'Connell chairs the Senate Government Affairs Committee. She also serves on the Commerce and Labor, and Taxation committees.
An avid tax fighter, she has said she's done more to cut spending than any other senator. If re-elected, she would like to see as much education money as possible shifted from school administration and spent instead on classroom supplies and equipment
She was the only member of the Taxation Committee last year to oppose a bill to allow wholesalers to raise the base price they charge retailers for cigarettes. O'Connell argued that any time cigarette prices go up, sales go down. She also opposed a law forcing insurers to pre-pay taxes before collecting premiums.
During the last session, O'Connell supported bills to require school districts to turn over copies of all children's records to parents when requested. She also backed a sovereignty resolution that was an offshoot of the Sagebrush Rebellion, calling for all powers not vested in the federal government to revert to the state. Supporters of the Sagebrush Rebellion want federal land returned to the states.
O'Connell's Government Affairs Committee also took heat last year from Secretary of State Dean Heller for allowing a campaign finance reform bill to die. The bill would have forced legislative caucuses to disclose the source of their campaign contributions, among other things. O'Connell said the bill died because the committee didn't get a chance to review proposed amended language before the end of the session.
O'Connell has weathered personal financial problems. She filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1993. Declaring assets of nearly $2 million and liabilities of more than $3 million, she emerged with a plan that shaved $1.2 million off her mortgage debt.
Sisolak, 42, ran unsuccessfully two years ago, losing to the other incumbent Republican senator in the district, Bill O'Donnell. Sisolak found himself having to defend his occupation as the owner of a telemarketing business that he had to defend as legitimate.
Politicians have had a field day with the sleazy side of the telemarketing industry. That's why Sisolak has come out in favor of tougher laws against solicitors who raise money over the phone. His business sells promotional items such as pens, key chains and mugs to businesses nationwide.
Sisolak is a staunch opponent of dumping high-level nuclear waste in Nevada. He supports increased funding to reduce the student-teacher ratio and wants to put police officers on high-crime school campuses.
Hagan, a 35-year-old electrical engineer, advocates a tax-voucher system that allows parents the choice of where to send their children to school. He also believes that to provide prison space for violent criminals, alternative punishment must be found for victimless or nonviolent offenders.
The Libertarian said that drug offenders should receive treatment and education rather than be locked up with violent criminals.
There are about 5,500 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district, the largest GOP majority in the county.
n District 6 -- Three-term incumbent Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, will face Democrat Daryl Nakamura.
Rawson, 55, a dentist who serves as an instructor at the Community College of Southern Nevada, is the assistant Senate majority floor leader. In addition to chairing the Senate Human Resources and Facilities Committee, he sits on the Finance, and Legislative Affairs and Operations committees.
Believing that the federal government will dump its nuclear waste in Nevada, Rawson has tried to encourage the state to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Energy for hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits.
He has fought for legislative remedies to make it easier for people to obtain health insurance. He believes Nevada could save money by turning Medicaid over to private industry.
Rawson also favors allowing terminally ill people to reject life-sustaining devices, but he opposes assisted suicides.
Nakamura, 37, is director of bingo operations at the Texas Station hotel-casino. If elected, he would become Nevada's first Japanese-American legislator.
He wants to protect senior citizens from "cruel" tax increases, and he supports projects to reduce the school dropout rate. Nakamura also favors mandatory immunization for children.
There are about 3,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district.
n District 7 -- Two-term incumbent Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, the Senate minority leader, is facing a re-election challenge from Republican Charles Muth.
Titus, a 46-year-old UNLV political science professor, stands in line to become Senate majority leader if the Democrats can win back the Legislature's upper chamber. Facing an imposing 13-8 GOP edge, she assembled a "dream team" of Democratic Senate candidates who she believes have a good chance of cutting into the Republican majority.
As minority leader last year, Titus defended Miller administration initiatives such as third grade class size reduction. She sat on the Senate government affairs, judiciary, and legislative affairs and operations committees. But her influence was blunted by the solid Republican majority led by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno.
As an example, she was unable to stop Senate Republicans from approving a resolution last year bashing Gov. Miller and Democratic Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa for attempting to remove Lincoln County officials who supported a nuclear dump in their county.
She also fought unsuccessfully to preserve the office of consumer advocate for auto insurance and keep the two-week legislative sessions in Las Vegas.
Outspoken on social and humanitarian issues, she supported bills to outlaw "horse tripping" at Mexican-style rodeos, establish procedures to file sexual harassment complaints against legislators and lobbyists and set aside 1 percent of state building budgets for art.
Titus also backed legislation allowing juveniles to be tried as adults for serious crimes and permitting judges to double prison sentences for gang-related crimes. But she opposes the use of chain gangs and doesn't want inmates to leave prison worse off than when they arrived.
She predicted that financing for Southern Nevada's roads, sewers, schools and public safety protection will be one of the most critical issues facing the 1997 Legislature.
Muth, a 37-year-old small business owner, is former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party and remains its spokesman.
He opposes the business tax and would return the responsibility for school lunch programs to the states. But he considers education reform his top issue.
As other Republicans have done nationally, Muth blames much of education's ills on teachers' unions. He believes parents should have the freedom to send their children to the school of their choice. Accordingly, Muth also supports tuition vouchers.
Muth also believes in teacher testing, "back to basics" education and more discipline in the classroom.
Democrats have about 8,400 more registered voters than Republicans in this district.
n District 8 -- With Democratic Sen. O.C. Lee's decision not to run for re-election, this is the only open state Senate seat in the county. The contestants are two-term Assemblyman Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, Republican Dennis Cobb and Libertarian Jerry Sims.
A 46-year-old businessman with a background in real estate and development, Schneider co-chaired the Assembly Economic, Development and Tourism Committee last year. He also served on the Commerce, Judiciary, and Taxation committees.
A self-described conservative, he supports bills to keep guns away from juvenile gang members and to reduce frivolous lawsuits by inmates by forfeiting their "good-time" credits.
He also advocates building-code revisions to allow construction with alternative materials and has backed legislation to protect prospective home buyers. Schneider also supported a bill to settle homeowners' association disputes by arbitration.
He has received high grades from the Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers. But he also turned up high on a list among 1995 legislators who were wined-and-dined by lobbyists.
Schneider believes that more state money should be diverted from "pet projects" in Northern Nevada to help pay for roads and schools in Clark County. He also opposes term limits for legislators, noting that voters already have that option by being able to throw incumbents out of office.
Schneider also supports more emphasis on alternative sentencing for those convicted of abusing drugs or alcohol. He suggested more money be spent on detoxification and halfway houses.
Cobb, a 39-year-old Metro patrol lieutenant, served in 1994 as a White House Fellow attached to the military Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The 1,800-member Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents Metro officers, has endorsed Schneider because of his support of collective bargaining for city and county employees. But Cobb said at least 300 officers support his candidacy and are angry at the union's endorsement of the Democrat.
Cobb favors more diversion programs for youth offenders, increased funding for parole-and-probation officers and improved pre-sentence investigations. He thinks prisoners should pay restitution to victims and wants victims to be notified when inmates are about to be released.
The Republican would limit appeals by death-row inmates, as well as frivolous prisoner lawsuits.
He supports term limits for legislators and pledges to serve no more than two four-year terms if elected. Cobb also backs welfare reform that allows states to implement their own programs without having to seek federal approval.
Sims was unavailable for comment.
The district includes about 4,700 more registered Democrats than Republicans.