Monday, May 6, 2013

The Rude Awakening for #NVLeg

Last Monday, we were warning everyone not to get too caught up in all the pomp & circumstance of the latest rumors of sweeping tax reform to hit Carson City. After all, the bulk of the tax plans floating around the Nevada Legislature don't even come close to fixing the major holes in our public infrastructure and social safety net. Nevada now faces potential law suits for mental health patient dumping.

Just yesterday, The Sacramento Bee released interviews with former Rawson-Neal who opened up on the origins of "Greyhound Therapy".

Though the employees offered different perspectives on the wisdom of sending psychiatric patients alone on bus trips across state lines, most described increased pressure in recent years to move patients out. And budget cuts, they said, were a driving factor.

"There is so much pressure now to get people out as soon as possible," said one longtime Rawson-Neal nurse, who requested anonymity for fear of losing her job.

"The administration has a meeting every week to talk about length of stay," she said. "Doctors are told, 'You need to get these patients out of the hospital.' " [...]

Nevada cut mental health spending 28 percent between 2009 and 2012, cuts that brought furlough days, staffing shortages and widespread reductions in outpatient services and housing for the mentally ill, according to employees and area social services workers. [...]

Bryan Peralta worked as a mental health technician at Rawson-Neal for eight months, ending in November of last year. One of the reasons he left the hospital was its discharge of patients "who were not ready" to be released, he said.

Peralta recalled one young woman who was sent to the Greyhound station while "she was still foaming" at the mouth and talking to herself. She had a ticket to California, but was sent back to Rawson-Neal by a bus driver before she crossed the state border, he said.

Yep, that's really been the state of mental health care here in Nevada. And no, sweeping this under the rug won't make it go away. And neither will dumping it onto a Greyhound bus.

But wait, there's more. Nevada is also facing potential law suits over K-12 public education. Here too, schools are being shortchanged. And the shortchanging is especially horrific in Clark County, where 72% of the population resides and the student body is far more diverse. For years, the Clark County School District (CCSD) has suffered overcrowded classroom and lack of programs students need. Now, CCSD and the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) have released a $1.2 billion plan to address overcrowding.

In total, the district and union's plan calls for hiring 4,115 new teachers, for a total of $271.7 million. The average teacher's salary with benefits is $66,000.

The additional teachers would be on top of an estimated 2,000 new educators being hired for next school year as a result of the School District's arbitration win against the Clark County Education Association in February. If all goes according to plan, the School District could have upward of 23,000 teachers by 2017.

That would lower average class sizes significantly in kindergarten, and fourth and fifth grades. Average class sizes in kindergarten would drop to 16 students. Fourth and fifth grades would see a drop to 26 students.

To accommodate the 6,000 new teachers and a growing student enrollment, the district also would have to build 37 new schools at a cost of $931.7 million. The average elementary school costs $25 million to construct.

In total, the new teachers and schools would cost the district $1.2 billion.

OK, that sounds nice. But wait, where will the funding come from? Right now, that's the key $1.2 billion question.

We know Governor Brian Sandoval's (R-Denial) oh so "sunny" budget fails to shine enough resources for public schools or mental health care. And while Senator Michael Roberson's (R-Lone Wolf) proposed IP 1 mining tax alternative initiative raises half of what CCSD is now requesting, it's still unclear whether "The Senate GOP Mod Squad" gambit is actually legally and/or politically viable.

So where does that leave us? Take it away, (Assembly) Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-Seriously?).

Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick this morning informed folks that her long-awaited admissions tax is finally drafted, setting a rate of 8 percent for all major venues.

The current Live Entertainment Tax has a two-tiered rate, with some venues taxed at 10 percent and others at 5 percent, depending on capacity. I'm told the bill draft exempts only small venues under 50 seats, nonprofits and some government sites.

The Live Entertainment Tax would go away and be replaced by the Nevada Entertainment and Admissions Tax.

Well, I guess something is better than nothing. And this does look preferable to the revenue-neutral regressive sales tax clusterf**k she and Republican leaders were considering earlier this session. But ultimately, this only offers a few drops in the bucket when we need that bucket as full as possible to take care of our own people.

It often seems like many politicians and pundits in Carson City don't understand why We the People decided to take tax reform into our own hands with The Education Initiative. Well, this is why! Nevadans are looking for solutions. And if the Governor and Legislature can't agree on a real solution by June, then We the People will have to provide it for them next year.

We can't take any more of the status quo. It's already costing us dearly. Something must change. And if we don't see that change coming out of Carson City soon, then it will be facing a very rude awakening come November 2014.

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