Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011 | 6:10 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
After weathering criticism from Democratic leaders about a plan that further cuts the state’s education budget, Gov. Brian Sandoval on Wednesday found a friendlier environment for his economic policies – the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
“So many of you in the chamber have been telling me it’s time for Nevada to turn the page and fully embrace the new realities of our economy,” Sandoval told more than 400 chamber members who packed a ballroom at the Four Seasons for a chamber lunch. “Like you, I know that Nevada has been trapped too long in a self-defeating cycle of bad news with no plan to get out of that space.”
Sandoval’s message, fresh after Monday’s State of the State address at which he unveiled a budget free of new taxes that creates a new model for economic development and reforms in education, was warmly received by chamber members who interrupted his 24-minute presentation nine times with applause.
Sandoval promised transparency on “the most complex budget in the state’s history,” and said he welcomed debate “now, not at the end of May.”
But in response to questions from reporters after the speech, he added that there would be no debating whether he would accept a proposal that includes tax increases.
“I think, given the situation we’re in, with unemployment, foreclosures and struggling businesses, I think raising taxes would be the worst thing we could do,” he told reporters. “What I’ve said is we need to have this debate.”
He said he was proud of the fact “that we balanced the budget without raising 1 cent of tax to protect the business community.”
But critics already have begun lining up to challenge Sandoval’s plan.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and educators statewide disagree with Sandoval’s proposed education budget. Horsford promised that the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee would have hearings.
Sandoval is counting on education reforms with recommendations coming from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school system and the founder and CEO of Students First, a national advocacy organization.
The governor said he believes public school programs can be redirected after touring West Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas earlier Wednesday. Sandoval said within its paperless environment, the school is gearing students for jobs in careers that are expected to be part of the state’s diversified economic landscape with studies in biotechnology, veterinary medical services, sports medicine, civil and environmental engineering, business management and healthcare administration, nursing, information technology management, computer animation and environmental sciences.
Sandoval also explained some of the details of his proposed restructuring of the state’s economic development strategy, which includes replacing the Nevada Commission on Economic Development with a public-private partnership called Nevada Jobs Unlimited.
The partnership would bring the governor, lieutenant governor, the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the Assembly and representatives of universities and K-12 education together with representatives of the private sector.
The strategy was developed with Steve Hill, the senior vice president of the chamber’s executive committee of the board of trustees, who traveled with Sandoval to find the nation’s best economic development practices and duplicate them in Nevada. The governor also received assistance from Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki’s New Nevada Task Force, which studied economic diversification since last summer.
“(Nevada Jobs Unlimited) is going to pursue several different strategies to grow jobs within existing Nevada businesses,” Sandoval said. “One of the conversations that happens all the time is we’re always looking to bring businesses in from out of state. But 70 percent of the jobs are going to be generated by you, by all of you in this room. It’s important for Nevada Jobs Unlimited to work with each and every individual that is making a payroll and do what we can to help all of you to hire Nevadans.”
Although Sandoval said he’d heard that several people listening to the State of the State address kept a scorecard of how many times he alluded to optimism, he continued to share that outlook.
“If Nevada was a stock, I’d buy now,” he said. “We’re going to improve education, we’re going to improve the delivery of higher ed, we’re going to have a balanced budget without tax increases. We’re not going to overregulate you. There are a lot of positive things to talk about.”