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Poll: Nevadans favor Sandoval tax increase plan

A majority of likely Nevada voters back Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to raise taxes to bring in more money for education, with 56 percent backing his proposed higher business license fee and 41 percent opposing the idea, according to a new poll released Monday.

Although the main component of the Republican governor’s total $1.1 billion tax package is favored by more state residents, a majority of GOP voters still oppose his plan: or 54 percent compared to 43 percent who back a higher business license fee. Among Democratic voters, approval was very strong: 67 percent of those surveyed liked the plan compared to 31 percent who opposed it.

Sandoval said he plans to personally present his detailed tax plan to the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development next Tuesday. Normally, administration officials present the governor’s budget, but Sandoval wants to make a face-to-face case to boost education funding.

The governor said he has looked at other tax hike proposals, including doubling the payroll tax and expanding sales taxes on services, and determines his proposal to boost the annual business license fee to raise $250 million is the best option for big and small companies.

“This proposal is the broadest, it’s the fairest and it is the simplest,” Sandoval said during a Monday evening appearance on “Ralston Live,” a public affairs program shown on Vegas PBS Channel 10 and KNPB in Reno.

The poll of 500 likely registered voters was conducted Feb. 21-23 by the Tarrance Group and commissioned by Nevada Can Do Better, Inc., a new political entity promoting Sandoval’s agenda. The telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Release of the poll comes a month into the 2015 legislative session as lawmakers review the governor’s proposed $7.3 billion spending plan for the next biennium and review whether to approve all, some or none of his tax and education reform proposals.

Now, the business license fee is a flat $200. Sandoval has proposed increasing the fee and imposing it on a graduated level based on a company’s gross annual revenues. The fee would range from $400 for small businesses to more than $4 million for the largest corporations.

Tax proposals need a two-thirds super-majority approval to pass both houses of the Legislature. The GOP holds a slim 11-10 seat majority in the Senate and a 25-17 seat majority in the Assembly. But at least half a dozen Republicans in the Assembly have signed pledges not to raise taxes and so the outcome of Sandoval’s tax hike proposals is uncertain.

The poll showed that Sandoval, who was re-elected in a landslide in 2014, has plenty of political capital to burn in pressing his agenda. Some 75 percent of those surveyed said they have a favorable view of the Republican governor and 17 percent unfavorable.

That compares to 40 percent who said they have a favorable view of the Nevada Legislature, 22 percent with an unfavorable view and the remaining 39 percent with no opinion.

Sandoval has said he wants to boost taxes, and extend a $580 million package of taxes that were scheduled to sunset, to raise more money for education. Some 67 percent of those polled agreed there’s “not enough” funding now for education; another 12 percent said there was more than enough while 17 percent said there was just the right amount of spending.

Voters have a dim view of Nevada’s educational system with 39 percent saying it is “poor,” another 39 percent saying it is “fair” and 19 percent saying it is “excellent.”

Voters, in general, agree with Sandoval’s education reform proposals. Some 81 percent agree children should be able to read by third grade or be held back with 17 percent opposed. Some 66 percent agree the current school funding formula should be changed with 21 percent opposed.

Charter schools are backed by 61 percent with 33 percent opposed. All day kindergarten is backed by 65 percent of voters with 32 percent opposed. More English learning language classes are backed by 54 percent with 41 percent opposed. And 70 percent want to boost funding for the gifted and talented program with 26 percent opposed.

A majority, or 52 percent, back changes in teacher union negotiations with 35 percent opposed. Some 71 percent support merit pay for teachers with 27 percent opposed. And a whopping 91 percent want more school administration accountability with 6 percent opposed.

Those surveyed also were asked about several other revenue-raising ideas. About 57 percent opposed expanding sales taxes to services such as haircuts, with 40 percent in support. Half of voters, or 50 percent, still oppose the services tax idea even if it comes with a commensurate drop in the overall sales tax rate, although 41 percent backed such a proposal.

Most voters, or 73 percent, opposed doubling the payroll tax rate and expanding it to all businesses, with only 20 percent in favor of the idea. The modified business tax now is 1.17 percent for most businesses, although 2 percent for financial institutions.

Voters liked the idea of raising cigarette taxes with 74 percent supporting it and 24 percent opposed. Those surveyed also backed Sandoval’s plan to boost slot taxes with 63 percent backing the idea and 29 percent opposed.

On a few other hot-button issues, voters polled sided with Republicans in the Legislature. Some 47 percent backed reforming the construction defect law to better define flaws and to cut out automatic attorneys’ fees, with 37 percent opposed and 17 percent unsure.

A majority, or 56 percent, favored exempting school construction projects from the prevailing wage law, which can raise the cost of building, with 36 percent opposed and 8 percent unsure.

About two-thirds, or 63 percent, backed reforming the Public Employees Retirement System to make it a defined contribution scheme for new employees — as opposed to a defined benefit plan for existing workers — with 28 percent opposed and 9 percent unsure.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.

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