Like the office they seek, the candidates for lieutenant governor are being overlooked. While a lot of sound and fury (often signifying nothing) goes on in the election campaigns around them, Republican Brian Krolicki and Democrat Jessica Sferrazza are behaving themselves, conducting their campaigns the way it used to be done, running for office without questioning each other’s motives, without calling each other uncaring liars.
The result is that their race is being largely ignored. That’s a striking lapse, given the state’s economic doldrums and the lieutenant governor’s role in the state’s economy. The state tourism and economic development commissions are chaired by the lieutenant governor.
The closest thing to news affecting the race came from a different candidate altogether—Democratic candidate for governor Rory Reid said he would ask the legislature to shut down state tourism and economic development operations and move them back to the governor’s office, which would sharply reduce the lieutenant governor’s duties. Both of the candidates oppose that idea.
“If the basis for the plan is for financial purposes, we’ve already done dramatic things,” Krolicki said. “Certainly my direct office—I’ve reduced my staff by 50 percent, reduced operating costs by almost 25 percent. The Commission on Tourism, its operating budget has been reduced 41 percent, almost half. In the Commission on Economic Development, which is the focus of just about everyone’s campaign now on the job of diversifying the economy and creating jobs, even that budget—which has important status these days—has been reduced by almost a quarter.”
Sferrazza said she also opposes an idea floated at the last legislature, of combining the two commissions.
“I think that would be a big mistake,” she said. “They’re two separate functions, especially with Nevada’s economy and hitting almost a 15 percent unemployment rate. Now more than ever, we need to focus our efforts on diversifying our economy and bringing jobs to Nevada.”
The tourism and economic development posts of the lieutenant governor were added by the 1983 Nevada Legislature to a proposal by Gov. Richard Bryan to beef up the state’s efforts in those fields by creating the commissions. Previously the lieutenant governor had few duties other than presiding over the Nevada Senate, though in earlier years the official had served as Nevada adjutant general, prison warden and state librarian.
The two candidates do not disagree much on issues, and the nearest Sferrazza comes to criticizing Krolicki is to say she thinks the job needs a higher profile.
“I think our current lieutenant governor has been absolutely invisible,” she said.
But they both talk about job creation. They both champion renewable energy as the answer to Nevada’s doldrums. Krolicki points to the progress he and the state have made. Sferrazza draws attention to what she has done as a Reno city councilmember.
“The private sector creates jobs,” Krolicki said. “But there are things that governments can do to help the private sector create jobs or to steer the private sector into what we perceive to be the clusters of opportunity.”
“I have a strong record of jobs creation,” Sferrazza said. “We [Reno’s municipal government] were the first in the state to implement clean renewable energy bonds. We’re placing wind turbines and solar panels all around the city. In fact, for those efforts we were just ranked number five in the country for being the fifth greenest city. What I plan to do is take those initiatives statewide.”
Sferrazza said one thing she would take to Carson City from her city experience is greater sensitivity to the way Sales Tax Anticipated Revenue (STAR) bonds can be abused. STAR bonds, which let businesses keep most of the sales taxes paid in their stores if they claim to attract tourists as at least half their customers, have been criticized as overgenerous corporate welfare, allowing companies to build their structures mostly from taxpayer dollars while draining local governments of revenue. In one case, Target moved from its company-constructed building on Prater Way in Sparks, where it paid 100 percent of its sales tax, to a new taxpayer-funded building farther east at Legends, where it pays only 25 percent of the sales tax.
Sferrazza—and the Reno City Council—supported legislation sponsored unsuccessfully by Assemblymember Debbie Smith last year that would have curbed the abuses of STAR bonds. The legislation is likely to be reintroduced at the 2011 legislative session. In negotiations on one recent Reno project, the Reno city government forced one business to surrender the city’s portion of the sales tax.
Sferrazza says STAR bonds can put small local businesses at a disadvantage to large or chain corporations that come into Nevada with plenty of capital. In addition, she said they create too much of a subsidy from government, particularly when they are combined with other forms of government assistance. That happened in downtown Reno, she said.
“I supported baseball, I supported the original agreement of baseball, I think it’s been good for our community, but at what point is it too much of a subsidy? … They’ve gotten land, they’ve gotten a car rental sales tax, they’ve gotten property taxes, they’ve just gotten a ton of money from the taxpayers, and I think to add STAR bonds on top of that is just—I have issues with that.”
At least in principle, Krolicki agrees that the bonds have been handed out too easily.
“We just don’t want to make any project that comes in eligible for STAR bonds,” he said. “Because certainly just by moving a business across the street or being a competitive-type business, I don’t think that’s a wise use.”
But this surface agreement could be deceptive because it’s unclear where the two candidates would draw the line. Sferrazza voted against making Cabela’s eligible for STAR bonds, in part because it meant that a large corporation would be getting government support against already existing local businesses that did not. In an interview this week, Krolicki seemed to approve Cabela-type STAR bonds: “But something like a baseball team or a very major retail store that’s set off, you know, I think those can be appropriate uses.”
Sferrazza is in her 10th year as a city councilmember. Krolicki is running for his second term as lieutenant governor after serving two terms as state treasurer.