New Chamber chief sets sights on taxes, education, medical school

The new leader of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce has big goals.

At his Tuesday installation luncheon at Aria, chamber Chairman Bob Brown detailed plans to involve the 5,000-member trade group in big issues sure to be on the 2015 Legislature’s agenda, including the state’s tax base, education reform and the startup of a medical school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

And Brown, who’s also president of nonprofit Opportunity Village and former publisher of the Review-Journal, has wasted no time getting started: He announced an education-reform summit, and said chamber leaders are set this week to meet with executives of Washington, D.C.-based think tanks that form tax and education policy.

“We are at a crossroads. In the past few years, there have been many good discussions that have shined a light on our shortcomings, and potential pathways forward,” Brown said. “But now is the time for us to finally do the things it’s going to take to build a brighter tomorrow. We can’t sit back. We need to get things done. For our part, the chamber will continue to press for action at all levels of government: local, state and federal.”

Brown didn’t specify preferred policies or strategies on how the chamber would shape changes, but he cited examples of reforms that he said are working.

The chamber has advocated implementing Common Core standards, all-day kindergarten, pay for teacher performance and a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

Brown also cited Robert Lunt Elementary, a local “zoom school” that received state funding in 2013 to boost performance of English-language learners. Lunt also began pre-kindergarten programs, expanded full-day kindergarten, provided free summer school and created Reading Skills Development Centers, all through legislation the chamber supported, Brown said.

To craft positions on additional reforms, chamber officials will meet this week with executives of The Education Trust, a group centered on closing opportunity and achievement gaps among children from low-income or minority households.

The chamber will also convene a statewide “conversation” on Dec. 16 with its K-12 Policy Committee to “broaden discussions” with group members, lawmakers and education experts, Brown said.

“We want to help build consensus for a plan of action to get legislation passed in the 2015 Legislature. We are all-in to get this done,” he said.

The debate on education reform wouldn’t be complete without tax talk, Brown said.

“The time has come to have serious tax-reform discussions. We cannot adequately address education and other priorities like transportation, health and human services and higher education without first reviewing and reforming our tax structure,” he said.

The chamber was a vocal opponent of Question 3, the margin-tax ballot initiative that lost in November’s election.

Group leaders will meet this week with the Tax Foundation, a policy-research nonprofit. The goal will be to search for “steady and predictable” tax structures, Brown said.

“It is important to explore all options and look at examples from other states,” he said.

Brown also announced a range of new programs for chamber members, with an emphasis on helping startups get off the ground. The 10,000 Hours initiative will encourage experienced professionals such as lawyers and accountants to donate pro bono time to entrepreneurs launching a business. The chamber will also soon roll out its Startup Membership for businesses that are less than 18 months old. The membership will provide startup-specific programming.

Contact Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @J_Robison1 on Twitter.

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