Monday, May 10, 2010

A Discussion With State Senator Joyce Woodhouse on "Green Collar Jobs"

@joycewoodhouse talking about going from educator to ed cmte ... on Twitpic

On Saturday my State Senator, Joyce Woodhouse (D-Henderson), took some time out of her busy weekend to head over to Silver Springs Recreation Center in Henderson (and just a short walk from my house!) to chat with us neighbors about clean energy, green collar jobs, and other Nevada issues we're concerned about.

And since you already know how hard it is for me to keep my mouth shut, you know I had some questions ready.

So I asked about renewable energy, and specifically what Nevada can do to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, similar to California's AB 32, while Congress still isn't yet working on federal climate change legislation. By curbing our greenhouse gas emissions and setting real, concrete standards for renewable energy production, we can actually encourage more growth in the renewable energy sector needed to diversify and jumpstart Nevada's economy. Senator Woodhouse responded by saying her colleagues in Carson City are considering stronger climate legislation, as California's model looks promising.

Already, we've been taking steps in this direction here in Nevada. Woodhouse discussed SB 152, the "Green Jobs Initiative" that allowed Nevada to invest federal Recovery Act (stimulus) funds in "green job" training centers, retrofitting, and actual renewable energy projects.

She also mentioned SB 358, which was also passed last year. SB 358 provides tax incentives for solar companies to hire Nevadans for the jobs, along with enabling more residential solar panels, planning more energy efficiency measures, and more.

All in all, it seems we're on the right track here in Nevada... I just think we can go further in developing our "green economy" while also diversifying our economy AND actually doing something about the climate crisis. I was glad to see Senator Woodhouse so open to doing more as well, and I hope the legislature will be serious about passing comprehensive legislation like California's AB 32 to set a real framework to tackle climate change and remake Nevada into a renewable energy powerhouse.

And speaking of our economy, we also briefly discussed the budget. Unfortunately, as of now our state is still heavily overdependent on gaming to balance the budget. That's why it was feared just a couple months ago that we'll be facing a $3.5 billion + deficit (or over half of the state's total budget!) in the 2011-2012 biennium. And while recovering Strip numbers have helped to reduce the projected deficit to about $2.5 billion, it is still a major problem our state will be facing next year.

Now Joyce Woodhouse didn't want to address "the t word", and I can understand why. We always mumble and groan and complain about taxes, even if we have no state income tax. And we always ask about supposed "government waste" that can magically be waved away, even though Nevada already has the cheapest state government per capita.

I was glad to hear the Senator talk about how our schools and health care programs can't afford any more cuts. They were already cut to the bone, and now the marrow is being sucked out of them... Especially with the schools, now that class size reduction is being cancelled and teachers are being laid off. If we really are serious about diversifying the economy, we need to better educate our kids to prepare them to be more than just cocktail servers and valet attendees.

So what can we do? Senator Woodhouse mentioned efficiency studies and stronger efficiency standards for state agencies. Maybe they will find some savings this way, but again I don't know how much more "efficient" the state can be when our government is already down to bare bones with even the marrow being sucked out from those bones.

Now one thing I was so glad to hear the Senator mention was the economic diversification issue. Again, our state is too reliant upon gaming. We can no longer afford to be a "one trick pony", and we need to find a way to survive on more than just casinos if we want Nevada to succeed. This goes back to green collar jobs and expanding our renewable energy sector. This goes back to building a stronger education system that provides the kind of workforce here that high-tech and biotech are looking for. Any long-term plan for a stable Nevada economy must include real efforts to diversify our economy, and I'm glad my State Senator is already thinking about this and working on this.

All in all, it was nice to see my State Senator drop by the 'hood and let us know what's being discussed in Carson City. And perhaps more importantly, it's nice to see she's listening to us. I know it's hard in an election year to talk about the reality of our state and what we need to do to fix our problems (hence why hardly any candidates want to talk taxes), but this is at least a real start.

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