Las Vegas Sun

July 26, 2017

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Is Sandoval more likely to address tax reform in a second term?

A sense is developing in Carson City that lawmakers will hold the line on the budget this session, opting for a tax reform discussion now but delaying any real action for two years.

What’s so special about 2015?

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a moderate governor who has extended but not raised taxes, would be in his second and final term — assuming he wins re-election in a year that is unlikely to bring him a significant opponent.

Indeed, many have likened Sandoval to former Gov. Kenny Guinn, a moderate Republican who cared deeply about education and pursued the most ambitious tax increase in decades in his second term.

Like Guinn, Sandoval is a moderate Republican. He cares deeply about education. And, as some are quick to point out, he has the same team of close advisers as Guinn, including Reno politicos Pete Ernaut and Greg Ferraro, who have helped Sandoval cultivate an image as a pragmatist rather than an ideologue.

“Some think (it) would be more likely with a Republican governor, hopefully, in his second session,” Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said recently about a potential discussion on taxes. “He might be more likely in his second term than he would in his first. I don’t think historically any governor, much less a Republican, supported a significant tax increase in his first term.”

Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said she also has encountered the comparison of Sandoval to Guinn.

One former state official said he would expect the governor to attack the issue of tax reform — though maybe not a tax increase — in a second term.

“He knows the tax structure doesn’t work,” the former official said.

But in a recent editorial board meeting with the Sun, Sandoval expressed surprise at the question.

“Who’s saying that?” he asked. “I have not (heard it.)”

Sandoval refused to say equivocally whether it’s a misperception.

“I am going to continue doing what I’m doing right now,” Sandoval said. “I’ve been an opponent of increasing taxes in the state. I don’t think it’s good for business and I think as time moves on, you will continue to see our state grow out of this.”

Others point out important differences between Guinn and Sandoval. Guinn was in his late 60s in his second term as governor — his first and only elected position — with no designs on higher office.

Sandoval is 49. This is his third elected office and many consider him a possible U.S. Senate contender. A tax increase could make a run for higher office more difficult.

Also, Sandoval hasn’t exactly primed the discussion for a debate on the tax structure.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

“Our tax system is working,” Sandoval said in explaining his belief that increased economic growth and diversification will take care of the state’s budget problems.

Pressed on that point, Sandoval deflected to what others have proposed so far.

“I believe it’s working right now,” Sandoval said. “Can it be improved? Let’s see it. I’m just as interested as anybody else. But when you get down to it, it comes down to some type of corporate income tax or services tax. I haven’t heard of anything other than that.”

And instead of proposing his own tax reform approach, Sandoval said he is focused on economic development.

“That is part of this economic diversification so that we’re not so reliant on gaming and tourism,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval also said he will ask lawmakers this session to lower the payroll tax rate on all Nevada businesses.

With that kind of rhetoric from Sandoval, Democrats don’t seem content to simply push the debate to a potential second term.

“He’s talking about lowering taxes this session,” Smith said. “That doesn’t make me think that (tax reform) would be on the agenda next time. I just hope we can all make decisions based on what’s right for the state, not the next election.”

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