When I heard Rep. Joe Heck had addressed a group of real estate professionals about the barriers to small business success in Nevada, I was disappointed that I’d missed the event. And not just because it was held at Lawry’s, home of the best prime rib in town.
I was sad I wasn’t there because I know Heck has been around Southern Nevada long enough to understand the problems facing this region. He served in the state Senate, so he knows the state legislative process. Since 2010, he’s served in Congress, so he knows the federal legislative process. And he’s a doctor and U.S. Army reserve brigadier general, so he’s got to be good at diagnosing and attacking problems.
I could only imagine Heck telling the real estate folks about how Nevada’s underfunded public schools are failing a significant portion of students, kids who get promoted even though they haven’t mastered the material. Those students often drop out or come to the end of their K-12 years unable to pass a standardized test. They never go on to college, and their earning potential is forever compromised, which means they have less money to spend at local small businesses.
Heck no doubt also pointed out that the ability of those students to get good jobs is compromised, too. As more and more employment requires post-high school education or specialized training, a goodly number of former Clark County students don’t fit the bill. As a result, Nevada suffers as it tries to attract new businesses to the state. (Business owners need an educated work force, as well as quality schools for their own children and those of their workers.)
Sure, Heck probably said, we’ve managed to attract big, new, high-tech businesses such as Tesla and Faraday Future and others that don’t always make the news, but we’ve had to bribe them with tax incentives to come here!
But, there’s good news, Heck no doubt added. The Republican-led Legislature and super-popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval finally took some steps toward fixing the problem. They passed a number of programs targeting specific issues in schools that we’ve known about for years, but never addressed. Kids being able to read by third grade, for example. Early childhood education. Reduced class sizes in critical early grades. English-language instruction for the kids who need it. And there’s even the nation’s most ambitious school-choice program, the Education Savings Accounts, although that’s under legal challenge.
Not only that, but the Republicans — led by Sandoval, state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, and Assemblymen Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, and Derek Armstrong, R-Henderson — did something that has eluded lawmakers for decades: They passed a tax on businesses that make more than $4 million per year to pay for those school reforms. It’s the first business tax in state history, and even the Tax Foundation — which criticized the concept during the 2015 Legislature — still lists Nevada as having the fifth best business tax climate in the nation for 2016. So, yay for the GOP, Heck surely said.
Instead, it turns out that Heck criticized the “gross margins or commerce tax, gross receipts tax” approved in 2015. (It’s commerce, by the way.) Heck implied it would harm the ability of small businesses “to grow, add to their payroll.” (Hey, that reminds me, the commerce tax allows a deduction for payroll taxes!) And he encouraged people at the meeting to urge their state representatives to erase the (unspecified) unintended consequences of the tax.
Well, that’s just too bad. I’m still disappointed I missed the event, even if I’d have disagreed with all of Heck’s points. But I’m not kidding about that great prime rib …
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.