Monday, April 15, 2013

Finally, Shortchange No More?

Back in January, we looked at the burgeoning campaign by powerful Southern Nevada interests to redo the state budget in a way that redirects money south. So far, there's been some success as the higher education finding formula will likely be changed. And with the threat of SB 322 clearly being felt, Clark County is already receiving 80% of state transportation project funding this year.

So there's already progress underway in redirecting state funds. Yet even with this, the Nevada Legislature's Southern leadership still seek more.

“If Southern Nevada gets a cough, the whole state gets a cold, and if you think about that analogy, when things don’t go well in Southern Nevada, everybody else feels the repercussions, as well,” Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said.

“Fair” can work like this: Behold, northern counties, as legislators shift money to Clark County, the most economically important county in the state.

“We want to be fair to everyone, but part of being fair to everyone is being fair to the south,” Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, said.

And we know the facts & figures behind their rhetoric. Clark County has over 70% of the state's population. And Clark County funds over 80% of the state's budget. Yet despite this, Clark County is "lucky" to muster just over 50% of state investment.

Again, some changes are now underway. And there will certainly be even more in the works by the time sine die approaches. Yet with this being said, there are even more areas where Southern legislators see inequities that must be fixed.

One such area is K-12 education. In Clark County, many can't even access full-day Kindergarten. Clark County schools have also been struggling to properly provide required English Language Learner (ELL) programs. This is why Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis (D-North Las Vegas) has pretty much threatened to do whatever it takes to secure more funding for Clark County schools. It's now just a matter of how much backup he will get from Kirkpatrick & Roberson.

Southern leaders also caution that more needs to be done, even on higher education & transportation funding. Just a couple sessions worth of more money can't make up for historic funding inequities and continuing drawbacks in current funding formulae. So what can be done? And how does that happen?

This is why many education activists have called for not just funding formulae fixes, but also more revenue to actually make it work. And this is why The Education Initiative will be going to voters next year.

Yet this year, legislators have not been ignoring the demand for restoring revenue. And in particular, Southern legislators have been noticing how Clark County funds over 80% of the state's budget, only to get about 50% back. This is why we've been hearing more calls for mining tax reform, even from some previously unlikely sources. After all, why should Las Vegas Strip casinos do nearly all the heavy lifting (as in tax collecting) while rural Northern Nevada mines pay mere pennies on the dollar for all the gold they strike?

We're just over halfway through the 77th session, so there's not much time left for legislators to agree to some dramatic overall of "GovRec" (Governor Brian Sandoval's proposed budget). Is there enough time to secure more funding equity now? Or is there at least time to lay more of a foundation for future major reforms?

There's not much time left, but there's also not much patience left.

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