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According to a study conducted by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, residents in four out of the five states that border Nevada have a lower governmental tax burden than Nevadans. While many Nevadans find it surprising because the state does not have an income tax, the study revealed how the low state tax burden is offset by a relatively high local tax burden.
“When I’m walking door to door, people ask me why Nevada hasn’t been able to attract more businesses to reverse the 12 percent state unemployment rate or 12.9 percent unemployment rate in Las Vegas,” says Wesley Duncan, candidate for Assembly District 37. “There are several reasons, but our high and somewhat hidden tax burden — business fees and regulations — takes the lead.”
This may explain why economic diversification has been discussed for decades but has yet to become a reality. While there have been some efforts, most of them have fallen short of being successful.
For example, the Nevada Development Authority launched a campaign to lure California businesses to Nevada last year. The commercials, which usually poked fun at highly taxed California business people, created more controversy than company relocations. Even those featuring Las Vegas playgrounds, university labs, and office parks struggled to attract more businesses than states without campaigns.
“We were effectively poking fun at California businesses, but even the business people who weren’t put off won’t make any relocation or expansion decisions based on television commercials,” said Duncan. “They will look at business costs, potential relationships, the workforce, and the quality of life for relocating employees. If they want to relocate, they are also looking at neighboring states.”
Duncan says that Nevada has to shift away from some short-term tactics and focus on a long-term strategic plan with an emphasis on stabilizing the tax code, reforming education, and addressing the $10 billion funding gap for the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS). He said as long as this level of uncertainty exists in the market, it will remain unlikely that outside businesses will stimulate the local job sector or economy.
“We need to have a referendum and involve our citizens. They deserve to know what the real challenges are without the political rhetoric so we can implement solutions, turn our economy around, and put people back to work,” said Duncan. “As it stands now, too many politicians think raising taxes is the answer for local government, county government, state government, and the federal government. Even people who are open to a tax increase cannot afford to be hit at every layer and level of government.”
In addition to bringing a new level of open, honest communication among the legislature and district residents — mail, town hall meetings, telephone conferences, and one-on-one meetings — Duncan intends to do the same in Carson City. He says he isn’t afraid to put forth bold ideas, lead candid discussions, and seek bipartisan support for legislation that restores the state to previous levels of prosperity.
“Many of the issues that I intend to carry forward come from the hundreds and thousands of people I have visited with and talked to in our district,” said Duncan. “For example, we all know there are reforms that need to be made to AB 284 in order to reduce the shadow inventory in the housing market. Housing has always been a cornerstone of the Las Vegas economy and normalizing the market needs to be a priority. We need it to lift us up instead of continuing to drag us down.”
Along with stabilizing the housing market, education is also in the forefront of Assembly District 37. Duncan says as the new school year neared, more parents expressed concerns about the lagging education system in Nevada. Many want more educational choice, but several pointed out that it goes beyond that. They said their children are being held back.
“There is fear among some politicians that school choice will penalize schools and underprivileged or at-risk children,” said Duncan. “The empirical evidence doesn’t bear this out. It will encourage schools to improve performance in the classrooms. What is unfair right now is that some of our best and brightest students are losing out, having their education shortchanged.”
Education, Duncan says, isn’t an issue limited to parents with school-aged children. It is directly tied to both economic opportunities and crime rates. Businesses that want to relocate to Nevada look to education as a skilled workforce indicator as well as the educational opportunities their children will receive. Higher graduation rates are also linked to reducing the crime rate, with each 10 percent increase in graduation reducing violent crime by as much as 20 percent.
“I grew up in Sonora, California, where empowerment or charter schools weren’t an option. Students who wanted to attend a university had to commute at least 50 miles,” says Duncan. “Looking back, I know more educational opportunities would have better prepared me for the University of California, Berkeley. I want our students here to feel better prepared when they graduate and know they will be able to find employment. Education is the single best chance kids have to lift themselves out of poverty. We haven’t been going in the right direction for a few years, but we could be again.”
Duncan, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom before being stationed with the Judge Advocate General (JAG) at Nellis Air Force Base, resigned from active duty when he knew he wanted to make Las Vegas his home. He still serves as a captain in the Air Force Reserves and recently married Jennifer Pearson, an active duty Air Force nurse who just returned from the Middle East.
Since making the decision to run for office, Duncan has focused on developing solutions that will put Nevadans back to work, improving education to give children more opportunities, and implementing fiscal responsibility and government accountability. Many of these priorities were set as Duncan walked his district, meeting one-on-one with district residents.
Richard R. Becker is an instructor, freelance journalist, and entrepreneur working in Las Vegas. Although he is commissioned to write a series about Wesley Duncan, Becker retains all oversight rights and his work is not subject to approval.
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