Thursday, April 12, 2012

Still Wondering Why We Need Tax Reform?

Just today, we've seen plenty of scary headlines. CCSD is fighting the local teachers' union over salary step and education increases that the district once promised to teachers.

Meanwhile on the actual infrastructure side of things, some heavy hitters have emerged to help CCSD survive that.

As the Clark County School District contemplates a new, $5.3 billion capital program, four former Nevada first ladies filed paperwork Tuesday to form a political action committee to support the potential ballot initiative.

With the 1998 bond program comes to a close, the School District is likely to seek public approval for a new capital campaign, which may raise property taxes as much as $74 a year on a $100,000 home. The district estimates it will need to issue $5.3 billion in school construction bonds to repair and modernize its aging school buildings over the next decade. Voter approval is needed for the School District to increase its debt limit.

Former first lady Sandy Miller filed paperwork with the Nevada Secretary of State's Office to form a PAC to help get the vote out for the potential school bond program.

Sandy Miller, Secretary of State Ron Miller's mother, will chair the PAC, according to the PAC filing. Other members of the PAC include former first ladies Bonnie Bryan, Dawn Gibbons and Dema Guinn. [...]

If the new capital bond program were approved, the majority of the money - about $3.4 billion - would go toward renovating and replacing old schools. About $1 billion would go to new technology and equipment for schools. The rest of the bond money would help build new schools in growing regions of the valley, and help the district strive for "educational equity" among its schools.

Especially since "The Great Recession" hit, Nevada's K-12 schools have been hurting. Yet even before the recession hit, Southern Nevada schools especially had a hard time keeping up with rampant population growth. And for some time now, local teachers have been hit hard by the cuts and the continued denial of once promised benefits that help them survive. And of course, the students here have probably suffered the most as their future career opportunities have been limited by the poor state of public education in Nevada.

So now, CCSD and the teachers have to fight over a budget that's been slashed to the bone, and four former Nevada First Ladies are stepping up to rescue a school bond measure that should be a "no-brainer" (except for the fact that it will be paid for by raising property taxes). This is really looking pathetic.

Perhaps this explains why the state teachers' union at least looks to be having some change of heart after initially turning down the AFL-CIO's business tax initiative.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association [NSEA], welcomes the attention all three tax initiatives are bringing to the state's need for new sources of revenue. In terms of education, Warne says, Nevada classrooms are operating with less funding than was allocated in 2003.

"We've gone backwards in funding for nearly a decade in the state. The initiative efforts demonstrate the frustration on the part of voters and parents that the legislature hasn't done right by our kids and schools, so they are taking it right to the voters."

Proposals are also being floated to raise taxes on mining and gaming in Nevada, but Warne says only the AFL-CIO initiative specifically targets dollars for education. Backers of the business profits tax have until mid-November to gather enough signatures to send the issue to lawmakers, and if they refuse to act, it goes on the ballot in 2014.

While NSEA still won't commit to endorsing the AFL-CIO tax initiative now, they're also not ruling out endorsing the initiative later this year. I guess they're realizing that Nevada AFL-CIO is determined to collect signatures this year, the workers have a powerful message of economic justice behind them, and some badly needed $1 billion a year in public school funding is at stake. Oh yes, and they must be realizing that our problems won't ever be solved if we keep delaying tax reform.

And that's really at the center of this. For far too long, Nevada has ignored the trouble in our tax code and the woes in our public schools. Now that we're just emerging out of the greatest recession experienced since "The Greatest Generation" were youngsters, we're really feeling the pain. Brian Sandoval may continue to try to spin it all away by showing us a pretty "sunset", but at the end of the day we must realize we have to prepare for tomorrow. We'll never really be ready for the challenges that lie ahead if we keep denying that they even exist.

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