Monday, June 3, 2013

We the People... Must Lead.

As the 77th session of the Nevada Legislature comes to a close, the mad dash to send a budget to Governor Brian Sandoval (R) continues. This morning, the Senate rushed to pass school funding and the long awaited "Sunset Tax" extension. And now, #NVLeg is poised to go out with a bust bang as Governor Sandoval's budget is nearing complete final approval.

Both legislators and the governor got what they wanted in the $2.5 billion schools budget: more money for Nevada’s schoolchildren.

But Democrats won’t reach the funding level they thought was appropriate. Last month, Senate Democrats publicly spiked their payroll tax hike in a contentious Senate floor debate. That tax plan would’ve added money to the budget for more education programs.

“We had a debate earlier this session about where we stood and what we’re doing for our kids, and we should be proud,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

While Democrats had earlier argued that education programs deserved more money than Sandoval had included in his budget, they now said that it’s good that the governor agreed where the state should spend the money it does have as it comes out of a lengthy economic recession.

“I’m glad that the governor funded our priorities,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. “We’re not going to have to cut (the budget) this time.”

Now legislators, some begrudgingly, are on track to pass a payroll tax cut for businesses.

Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, wore a resigned expression as she headed toward the Senate floor late Sunday night to pass various budget-related bills.

“We’ve done some really great things, but we’re also lacking in some areas,” she said.

The public education budget is already on the Governor's desk, and the rest will soon follow. So game over? Everyone can go home happy? Not so fast, say Nevada teachers. They're getting ready to rumble... At the ballot box next year.

[Outgoing President of the Nevada State Education Association Lynn] Warne said that "incremental" increase in k-12 funding won’t do much. It won’t be enough to really solve any problems. Class sizes will continue to be too large in the early grades, Nevada’s English language learners will still struggle. Nevada’s dropout rate will continue to be a national leader.

“They (governor and legislature) all recognize we don’t fund public education properly in this state, but what they are proposing to put into it, what we are coming out with, is not going to move the needle anywhere.”

The margins-tax plan calls for 2 percent tax on a business’ “margin,” the money left after the business either deducts its overall cost of goods or the its overall compensation paid to employees.

Warne said she was not surprised that state lawmakers sat on their hands when considering the margins tax.

“Looking at the characters in this building, the personalities, the make-up of both houses, the number of Ds and Rs, the governor rhetoric on no new taxes – we didn’t necessarily think it would move," Warne said. "And again, that is why we chose the strategy we did in the first place – the initiative process.”

The initiative process is the only viable way to raise taxes for education in Nevada’s hamstrung poltical process, Warne said.

“The two-thirds (vote requirement in both houses to raise taxes) has done nothing but hamstring the Legislature,” Warne said. “There are some legislators in this building who really want to see k-12 funded properly in the state. But unfortunately, they haven’t and their constituents they represent have not been able to see any improvement in education funding.”

Who will ever forget the hearing The Education Initiative received before its quiet death? Well, it turned out that IP 1 (The Education Initiative) didn't actually die. Rather, the corporate margins tax proposal will be landing on our Fall 2014 ballots.

Today, the Legislature finally succumbed to Governor Sandoval's request for underfunded schools and inadequate public infrastructure. They may not be quite as underfunded as they were in previous sessions. Yet even Governor Sandoval's own President of the State Board of Education, Ms. Elaine Wynn herself, has described Nevada public schools as "grossly underfunded". This poorly kept secret is becoming increasingly difficult to deny.

So now, someone has to deal with it. Someone has to start fixing this structural problem. And since we saw no solutions from "leaders" in Carson City this spring, We the People must provide leadership and get it done in the fall of next year.

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