Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Redistribution & Reconciliation

We all knew this was coming. Back in January, Southern Nevada "business leaders" demanded a change in the state's education funding formulae. OK, so that's been happening pretty much since the founding of Las Vegas. What's changed?

What's changed is that this time, Southern Nevada's legislators are actually pursuing change. That's why the usually affable Jason Geddes & William Horne had a brief Twitter fight last month. And that's why some Northern Nevada legislators are getting jittery.

And now, key Southern Nevada Democrats are now suggesting this can be used to break the logjam on restoring past budget cuts to Nevada schools.

“If people aren’t willing to talk, that definitely needs to be on the table,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, of the strategy. “If we don’t want to talk about adequacy in the way we fund things, then maybe we can talk about equity.”

Southern Nevada legislators say they want to play nice by shifting money to Clark County but also raise taxes to patch the losses the other 16 school districts would suffer. That plan, however, would require many rural legislators to make a reluctant vote for tax increases.

“It’s on the forefront (for) many Southern Nevada legislators to figure out how to hold other people harmless, but I think that brings up the revenue discussion,” said Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas. [...]

Changing the formula to account for the higher costs of educating students living in poverty and English language learners, among other factors, would mean that the state would need to raise at least an additional $117 million in order to replace the money rural school districts would lose, according to the 2012 study.

So if the revenue pie doesn’t grow, Clark County legislators could find a way to steer their direction the $135 million in new education funding Sandoval has proposed or flip a few levers in the state’s education funding formula and send dollars cascading south from northern school districts.

“I don’t think anybody really wants to do that, but we hear from Clark County residents that we should do that,” Denis said. “They’ve been funding the rest of the state, and our kids are the ones that suffer because of that.”

At last, the late Bill Raggio's (deliberately) "fuzzy math" is coming back to bite Northern & Rural Nevada. For decades, Clark County has subsidized the rest of the state. While over 80% of the state's revenue is collected in Clark County, and while over 70% of state's population resides in Clark County, about 50% of state expenditures are spent in Clark County. This simply isn't sustainable.

That's why so many down here are demanding change. And that may be leading to some previously unexpected openings in other areas of the state budget. Assembly Minority Whip Tom Grady (R-Yerington) proclaimed his opposition to taxing an industry based in one part of the state to fund public services in another. He should be careful what he wishes for, especially considering the statistics listed above... And the Las Vegas Strip casinos' fear of any future gaming tax increase.

Against this increasingly complex, multi-layered, and intriguing backdrop, SJR 15 will be heard in the Senate Revenue & Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. Ralston hints there may be drama next week, but I have a hard time seeing justification for it now. More and more Democrats have had to reaffirm their commitment to passing SJR 15, and now the "Mod Squad" Republicans are on record supporting it.

Funny enough, Tom Grady tried to use his anti-redistribution argument against SJR 15. If anything, it's now having the opposite effect. Again, over 80% of the state's revenues are collected in Clark County. The Las Vegas Strip is not just the glitzy show horse of the state, but it's also the state's key economic work horse. And money made on The Strip often ends up spent on public services in places like Yerington, Ely, and Winnemucca.

Personally, I have no problem with that. However, what I do have a problem with is hypocrisy. How can one rail against redistribution of state funds, then actively support it?

The only ones who truly benefit from the current redistribution scheme are the multinational mining corporations. They extract valuable precious metals, rake in record profits, and pay hardly anything to the state in return. And because these multinational mining corporations pay hardly anything, the state must rely even more on Southern Nevada's gaming & tourism industry to deliver the goods for the entire state.

Something must change. Why should Clark County students and educators suffer just so multinational mining corporations can pad their profits a little more? That's why we'll be seeing even more fireworks in the coming week.

(And on an important programming note, I plan to be in Carson City next Tuesday for the SJR 15 hearing. Expect plenty of live coverage next week when Nevada Progressive takes a field trip to the Nevada Legislature!)

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.
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