Monday, January 31, 2011

On "Nevada Being Nevada Again": Last Word on Saturday's Town Halls

Over the weekend, Governor Brian Sandoval enjoyed himself at inaugural balls in Las Vegas and Reno. He and his guests had a great time at both parties, as the champagne was flowing freely and spirits were quite high.

Perhaps Sandoval should have stayed here in Las Vegas Saturday morning to hear some of these people testify at The Legislature's town hall on his proposed budget.

My friend and neighbor, Tera, was there, alongside her husband John. They both lost their jobs in the construction industry, and both are now back in school. John is in CSN and studying to become a nurse, while Tera is now at UNLV and studying to become an accountant.

Both spoke so eloquently on the challenges they face daily. They're not "spoiled". They're not "lazy". In fact, against incredible odds of tight family budgets and three kids to raise, they're working to improve their lives and set a great example for their kids.

Tera spoke of adapting to the new economy. This is something I've been begging The Governor and The Legislature to do for our state for quite some time. The real estate speculation and debt fueled "boom times" of the last decade are long gone, so we need to stop acting like we can return to those "good old days".

Numerous ordinary Nevadans have already seen the writing on the wall. "Easy" construction jobs are no longer all that easy to get, and "plentiful" casino jobs are no longer all that plentiful, especially now that the casinos are increasingly investing in foreign markets and less so in new Nevada properties. That's why more and more of them are doing what Tera and John are doing. They're going back to school, working on advanced degrees, and doing what they need to do to access the jobs of the future.

So why can't Brian Sandoval see this? I'm sure he didn't hear any stories like this one at either of his inaugural balls last weekend, so why couldn't he take the time to stop at the town hall at Grant Sawyer on Saturday to listen?

More and more Nevadans realize that the only real way to "let Nevada be Nevada again" is for Nevada not to repeat the mistakes made in the past. The days of "easy money" in gaming and "growth" are behind us. We now have to adapt our economy for the new reality. What are we doing to adapt?

Despite (or maybe because of?) having the second lowest tax rate in the country and the cheapest state government in the country, we also have the fourth WORST business climate in the country. Why is that? Maybe we should listen to the ever increasing chorus of local economists and respected think thanks, like The Brookings Institution and The London School of Economics, telling us that we need to invest in much needed public infrastructure like higher education in order to diversify our economy and break this painful cycle of extreme booms and busts. (And by the way, in case you were wondering, this paragraph is what I brought up when I testified on Saturday.)

Brian Sandoval can talk all he wants about "Nevada being Nevada again" as he smiles and exudes optimism and speaks wistfully of Ronald Reagan, but none of that will put our broken, failed state back together. We need to stop being afraid of having an honest discussion on taxes, and start showing some of the courage of everyday citizens like my neighbor Tera in adapting to the new economy and investing in the infrastructure we need to succeed in it.

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