Thursday, May 19, 2011

Who Does Nevada Value?

This is a question we all need to think about. Does Nevada value its people?

“We feel that Nevada just doesn't care about us,” said Nathaniel Phillips. “We feel you're putting your party before the people. We are the people you represent.”

Kyle George of Las Vegas said he has made the trip from Las Vegas to Carson City so many times, “I'm tired of talking about this.”

“Please set aside political ideology,” he said. “Meet us half way in the middle.”

LeLiana Deleon, a biology major in Southern Nevada, pointed out that, without education, lawmakers on the committee wouldn't be where they are now.

“The future of Nevada is with the kids,” she said. “Do not let the future crumble.”

J.T. Creedon who attends the College of Southern Nevada said the governor told students he wouldn't lift the sunsets on tax increases approved two years ago because promises were made those taxes would go away.

“The Board of Regents and system promised us these (tuition and fee) increases would be lifted as well,” he said. “Those sunsets were lifted. I don't understand why promises can be broken to students but not to anybody else.”

We'll find more clues this week as the (initial) higher education budget moves through The Legislature. It includes a 13% tuition hike, but Brian Sandoval is already threatening to veto it because it doesn't cut college funding and raise student tuition enough for him.

Once again, Desert Beacon explains beautifully why Sandoval is dead wrong on undervaluing higher education.

First, there is a connection between the quality of the higher education services available and economic activity. One of the prime reasons enterprises locate to a given area is the availability of research and business support provided by institutions of higher education. It’s no big secret why new computer science companies are locating in and around Salt Lake City, UT. Nor has it ever been a secret why Silicon Valley grew up in the shadows of Cal-Berkley, Stanford, et. al. Or, why high tech companies have gravitated to the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Any wonder why UCLA has a world renown school of theater, film, and television, and USC includes an equally well known school of cinematic arts? If Nevada doesn’t support its institutions of higher education why would we expect anyone else to get excited about the prospects of using their services to augment the success of their business enterprises?

Secondly, the user-fee theory of public taxation assumes that only those directly involved in higher education are the recipients of any economic benefit. Wrong again. In addition to the commercial applications of university research mentioned above, colleges and universities generate economic activity in the community. Professors and students add their consumer spending to the local mix. The entire spectrum of local business is improved by the addition of a college or university. Teachers, staff, and students spend money — on housing, groceries, vehicles, utilities, restaurant meals, clothing, and so on. To say that we can raise taxes on the consumers, but not on the businesses they support is to look very narrowly at only one side of the economic equation.

Third, we can extend the economic benefit by thinking of higher education from the perspective that the institutions provide pre-service training for the local work-force. What’s more convenient for a company — having to conduct a nationwide search for an accountant? Or, having a School of Business Administration at hand? Need to hire a graphic designer for an entry level position? The personnel department would be pleased to find someone from a local School of Fine Arts, which would be far less expensive than looking elsewhere and everywhere.

Coming from California, I can most definitely back up DB. Silicon Valley is the epicenter of hi-tech and e-commerce because of the presence of Stanford and UC Berkeley. San Diego has become the epicenter of biotech and medical research because of the presence of UCSD. And similar stories can be told in other western locales, such as Salt Lake City, Denver, and Tucson, where the strong presence of strong universities has led to stronger economies with more stable job markets.

But because Nevada hasn't invested as much in higher education, we in turn have lagged behind. We mistakenly thought we could "grow our way" out of this problem by the way of artificially inflated real estate development fueled by personal debt. Now we are paying the consequences of that huge mistake. Simply put, we can't expect another "bubble" of "irrational exuberance" to "grow" us out of this crisis. The only realistic long-term solution to Nevada's economic problems involve developing the higher educational opportunities we desperately need to grow the workforce new industries will want, leading to a more stable and diversified economy.

So where do we go from here? Well, it's complicated. As I've been saying this week, certain "bid'ness" lobbyists are holding a budget and revenue deal hostage over public servant rights and benefits. And right now, Republican legislators are hiding behind this as they say they "support Sandoval", but then propose some sort of deal. There seems to be a good chance of getting a deal on extending the 2009 tax deal, and a deal on any new revenue proposals may still be very up in the air.

So in the coming weeks, we will know what and who Nevada really values. Do we value our people enough to pursue long-term economic opportunities? Or will we continue to make even more shortsighted mistakes? Those legislators really need to hear from us.

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