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October 24, 2014

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politics:

Does Gov. Sandoval stick to the facts in his campaign pitch for money?

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval delivers the State of the State address at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 | 2:23 p.m.

Gov. Brian Sandoval is looking for some campaign donations as he ramps up his re-election campaign and recently sent out a lengthy pitch for the money.

Sandoval sent a four-page campaign mailer — first reported by independent journalist Jon Ralston — to Republican-minded supporters throughout the state.

“We are writing a remarkable story of Nevada’s Comeback,” the letter begins.

But is that story true?

The Sun looks at the facts:

CLAIM: Sandoval “cut $500 million in state government spending.”

Verdict: Partially true.

The campaign office cites a story from the Review-Journal that says the Sandoval administration cut $500 million in the state’s 2011 budget. Technically, that’s right.

The state budget, however, remained roughly the same as the state’s previous budget; most of the cuts came from reductions in federal spending.

Overall, Sandoval has presided over spending increases during his three years in office, largely because of his decision to significantly expand the state’s Medicaid program under the new federal health care law and because he assumed office in the middle of the economic recession when legislators had already been forced to significantly slash the budget.

The spending increases are the result of a modestly improving economy and policy changes.

This year, he touted $483 million in new education spending on his Instagram account.

He didn’t mention those increases in his mailer.

The mailer targeted Republican donors who likely prefer to hear about the size and scope of government decreasing rather than increasing.

CLAIM: Sandoval “cut payroll taxes by $90 million.”

Verdict: Partially true

Sandoval twice cut payroll taxes. He first established exemptions for small businesses in 2011 and then expanded those exemptions this year.

But businesses with more than $340,000 in annual payroll costs are paying a higher payroll tax rate now than they would have before 2009 because Sandoval twice extended a payroll tax hike that was scheduled to expire in 2011.

At the same time as he extended these tax increases, Sandoval exempted businesses with $250,000 in annual payroll costs in 2011. Then, this year, Sandoval asked for and got a further cut for businesses that have $340,000 in annual payroll costs.

As for the $90 million figure, the total dollar amount of the cuts isn’t known yet because they were only recently passed and the state’s tax department hasn’t had a chance to measure the actual effect of the cut.

CLAIM: “Unemployment has been driven down from 14.9 percent to 9.5 percent, we just had our largest monthly gains in job growth in eight years in August.”

Verdict: False.

It’s a small point, but unemployment rates only reached 14.9 percent in the Las Vegas area in December 2011. The 9.5 percent number refers to the state’s unemployment level in August 2013, so the comparisons aren’t equal.

Since Sandoval took office, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen from 13.7 percent in January 2011 to 9.5 percent in August 2013.

In Las Vegas, the rate was 9.6 percent in August.

Nevada’s current unemployment rate is the nation’s highest while Las Vegas’ ranks No. 335 out of 372 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

The state did post its largest monthly gains in job growth in eight years in August of this year.

What’s excluded here is the troubling trend of job gains in a time of wage stagnation. More Nevadans may have jobs, but the “most concerning part” of the state’s labor market is the fact that wages aren't keeping up with inflation, according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

CLAIM: “Nevada is now a top 10 state for business.”

Verdict: True and false.

Nevada is a top 10 state for business, Nevada also is a middling state for business, and Nevada is a bottom 10 state for business.

When gauging something as subjective as being good for business, there’s a poll out there to support all three of the claims.

The Tax Foundation says Nevada is No. 3, and CEO Magazine says it's No. 9.

Forbes says Nevada is No. 36.

CNBC grades Nevada as No. 46.

CLAIM: “We’ve stopped not one but FOUR attempts to raise billions in higher state taxes, and these victories have you keeping more of your hard earned money in your pocket.”

Verdict: True.

In 2011, then-Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and then-Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, proposed two tax hikes that they said were necessary for state services such as education and health care.

In 2013, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, also proposed bills that would increase taxes.

None of the proposals passed the Legislature because tax bills require two-thirds of the members of the Assembly and Senate to vote “yes” on the bill. Republican legislators refused to vote in favor of the bills, killing the proposals. Sandoval also promised a veto.

While it may be more accurate to say Sandoval worked with Republican legislators to defeat the Democrats’ tax proposals, the gist of the statement is correct.

CLAIM: “We’ve balanced two consecutive state budgets WITHOUT raising your taxes.”

Verdict: True and false.

Let’s explain this one.

First, balancing the budget is a constitutionally required function of state government. The raising taxes claim is up for endless debate and ultimately comes down to your personal view.

Here’s the situation:

The Legislature passed temporary tax increases in 2009. They were supposed to expire or “sunset” in 2011.

Sandoval extended the “sunset” tax increases in 2011, sparking conservative ire because the governor ran for office ona pledge to never raise taxes.

Sandoval again extended the majority of tax increases in 2013, prompting the Nevada Taxpayers Association to wryly ask: “Will the sun ever set?”

So does extending a tax increase amount to “raising your taxes”? You decide.

CLAIM: “We won landmark school reforms by ending teacher tenure and expanding charter schools.”

Verdict: Partially true

Sandoval created a state charter school authority to oversee the creation of more charter schools. But he reformed so-called teacher tenure; he did not end it.

Technically, teachers in Nevada have never been granted tenure. But they couldn’t be fired “at will” after completing a probationary period. Under the reforms passed by the 2011 Legislature, teachers now have an extended probationary period and those with enough unsatisfactory reviews can be placed back on probation.

CLAIM: “We made tough choices to have government live within its means by eliminating 600 government positions (and) consolidating dozens of state agencies.”

Verdict: True for a while.

Nevada doesn’t have a lot of state workers compared with other states, and its state workers earn less than local government workers. But the phrasing here is important.

The state did eliminate hundreds of positions, but they did not fire many workers. Instead, the state has not replaced retiring employees or people who leave state jobs for other reasons.

Also, while the total number of authorized state positions dropped during the first three years of Sandoval’s administration, the current budget he signed calls for an increase back to 2011 levels by 2015.

Nevada has hundreds of boards, commissions and agencies. Sandoval has succeeded in consolidating some of these while also creating a few new ones as other needs arise.

CLAIM: “We have repealed or modified over a thousand state regulations that harmed businesses and job creators.”

Verdict: True

Sandoval did order state agencies to repeal or modify duplicative state regulations.

Although it’s unclear whether every single one these regulations “harmed businesses,” it is true that Sandoval did order agency directors to re-examine their regulations and strike or amend them.

This story has been edited to correct the figure on wage stagnation in Nevada.

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