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Laxalt talks education, Medicaid work requirements and what’s next for marijuana in Nevada

Attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt is committed to continuing the education reforms started by Gov. Brian Sandoval. He also wants to implement work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients and doesn’t think the federal government will disrupt recreational marijuana in Nevada.

“It’s unacceptable for us to remain at the bottom of education,” said Laxalt while filming Nevada Politics Today. “There’s no question about that. I think the governor’s done a great job at trying to move the ball, moving a very tough machine.

“We’ve got a system that for the last few decades has not been working very well. Schools are hard to move. (Changing) the culture does not happen overnight.”

Laxalt called Sandoval’s Zoom and Victory School programs “important.” Zoom and Victory schools get additional money to help improve educational outcomes for ELL students and students in poverty.

“We do not plan on reducing education spending,” said Laxalt. “We want to make sure that it’s funded at the current levels. I’m not supportive of the commerce tax, for example. Some political opponents are trying to use that (to say), ‘If that’s cut, therefore education’s going to be cut.’ My pledge is that education funding will remain consistent. That’s not something I plan on reducing.

“Philosophically, I do not believe that more money is the solution to better schools. You have those people that just think simply if we had more money, schools would be better. I am not one of those people, and I think the data shows that, if anyone is really willing to look at it.”

Education Savings Accounts are an important program to Laxalt, who bragged about the work his office did defending them from a legal challenge. The Legislature passed ESAs in 2015. ESAs give parents an account with a portion of the money that would have been spent on a child’s public education for use at private schools, online learning or home-based education.

“I’m going to push for funding,” he said. “We need ESAs. I think it’s a great innovative program. Democrats are going to continue to say that it’s not a good program. I look forward to that debate.”

Unlike his primary opponent and treasurer Dan Schwartz, Laxalt did not draw any lines in the sand about using his veto pen to obtain ESA funding.

“I’m not willing to commit to anything in the budget process as far as an absolute,” said Laxalt. “I’m going to have two Democrat houses, potentially. If I win, we need to make sure we have our comprehensive plan and get as much of it through as we can.”

One area where Laxalt disagrees with Sandoval is on the commerce tax. In 2015, Sandoval pushed for a gross receipts tax, called the commerce tax, as part of the largest tax increase in Nevada history.

“I work with the governor everyday,” said Laxalt. “We have thousands of things that we work together as a state [on]. I’m not going to agree with him on everything. We don’t agree on the commerce tax. It’s the bottom line. That’s okay. I’m not going to battle him on it. If it lands on the ballot, it’s something that I would support. I think we should repeal it.

“I don’t think that if we lose the commerce tax that it’s going to have any negative effect on our budget. It’s less than 1 percent of our overall state spending. I feel very confident that we can make up that gap.”

Recently, the Trump administration has told states that they could include work requirements for able-bodied adults seeking Medicaid.

“I would absolutely sign onto the work requirements,” Laxalt said. “I hope we would structure the system to incentivize people to use that safety net and eventually get out of it. I think that should be the goal for all of us.”

While Laxalt disagreed with Sandoval’s decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, it’s not a decision that he’ll try to reverse.

“I would not have done the Medicaid expansion, but it’s certainly not anything I’m rolling back. We’re a number of years into this system. I think the important part for the coming years is to make sure we can pay for all of it.”

Laxalt also doesn’t anticipate changes to Nevada’s marijuana laws. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently rescinded an Obama-era memo that told states the federal government wouldn’t enforce most legal restrictions against the drug.

“What Nevadans care about is ‘What is the effect for the state?’” said Laxalt. “I think the effect for the state will be almost nothing.

“I don’t really see a scenario where a U.S. Attorney is actually going to go down and shutdown recreational marijuana or legalized facilities that are recognized by the state.

Laxalt also touted efforts by his office to ensure the orderly enactment of the initiative.

“While I was opposed to the ballot intiative, I have done exactly what I promised,” he said. “We’ve defended the ballot initiative against litigation successfully, this year. We’ve also been part of all the reg[ulation] writing process. My lawyers represent the Tax Department. I’ve fulfilled my part. If voters want this, we’re going to do our job and support it.”

The second part of Nevada Politics Today’s exclusive interview with Laxalt will be available on the Review Journal’s website next week.

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