Monday, January 30, 2012

Has Southern Nevada Been Shortchanged?

Today, KNPR's "State of Nevada" touched the issues that are always on our minds... Even if it sometimes feels like they are never really part of our agenda:

- Are we really investing too little in public education?

- Just how over-dependent are we on tourism?

- What must we do to diversify our economy?

Oh yes, and...

- Considering Clark County pays for over 80% of the State of Nevada's budget and is home to over 70% of the state's population, do we really get our state tax dollars' worth?

Last November, UNLV Brookings Mountain West released this paper discussing the challenges that lie ahead for Nevada's economy. But as usual, after about 24 hours of pointing out its existence, this was quickly forgotten. It seemed like that was regularly the case throughout 2011, despite the growing mountain of evidence showing Nevada must change in order to survive in the 21st century. And already one month into 2012, the Nevada Cancer Institute is being swallowed up by a CALIFORNIA college, and hardly anyone raises an eyebrow.

How many more times must reality bite us in the ass before we realize our collective Nevadan ass is bleeding so profusely that our underwear is being dyed red?

In case you missed it last week, I want to show you what Desert Beacon wrote last week that explains Nevada's economic conundrum in a nutshell. We've been underfunding higher education for far too long, and this problem only continues to worsen as we continue to force UNLV and UNR to cut investment even more. Yet when we look at our most promising areas for economic growth, they're areas that require an educated workforce. We have plenty of growth potential in high tech (especially when it comes to green technology), as well as in biotech & medical research, but we're cutting the very programs at our institutions of higher learning that could give us a much needed leg up in these sectors.

Just last week, The Sun posted an article detailing how UNLV has lost both faculty and students in the last three years "thanks" to state budget cuts. How much more of this can we handle?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Tourism alone can no longer save us.

What makes this even worse is that over many years and many legislative sessions, "the powers that be" in this state have mostly looked the other way despite all the growing evidence pointing to these serious problems. "The Great 2000s Real Estate Bubble" was always doomed to burst, but hardly anyone in Carson City wanted to talk about how to get past it until it was too late. Of course, they probably didn't want to talk about it because the bulk of the state's budget was built upon the bubble, and that everything from fire stations in Tonopah to community centers in Eureka to freeway projects in and around Reno depended on tourist dollars from the Las Vegas Strip. And even as the state had been able to fund some public infrastructure in Central and Northern Nevada thanks to "bubble" money from the last decade, Clark County still lacks sufficient higher ed opportunities at UNLV, sufficient health care, and plenty other areas of infrastructure that are critical to a successful community. Strangely enough, money from the primary economic engine of Nevada (Clark County) hasn't been used to properly maintain that engine. And because that engine has been neglected, the entire vehicle (Nevada) is in trouble.

And this brings us back to Dr. Robert Lang's segment on KNPR's "State of Nevada" this morning. The typical "powers that be" in Carson City have failed the entire state, but especially Southern Nevada has been neglected, and that's ultimately been to the detriment of everyone in Nevada. As this election season heats up and we eventually hear candidates talk about what they want to do in Carson City next year, we need to make sure that they follow through on their promises once elected, and that they finally stop avoiding what has to be done to heal our state and let Las Vegas become more self-sufficient.

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