Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dancing at the Center of It All

This morning, we discussed the growing presence of Koch Industries in Nevada higher education. Does anyone wonder why this is happening? As we've been starving higher ed in the state budget, they've become more desperate to find new sources of revenue.

That's why it was interesting to see Brian Sandoval pull out his big surprise in factoring an extension of the 2009 tax deal into his proposed 2013 budget. He actually said he wanted to "avoid further cuts to education". Wow. So now Sandoval cares about school funding?

Wait a minute. Sandoval just appointed a new state school Superintendent who thinks reducing investment in public education can be a good thing. There's something else at play. Anjeanette Damon is now noticing the political game being played here.

The centrist approach from some Republican leaders comes as the party fights to take control of the state Senate and signals that the GOP believes it has a better shot of accomplishing that by rejecting the more strident anti-tax position that has opened a rift in the party. [...]

Ironically, it also came the same day Grover Norquist, a leading national anti-tax activist, referred to Sandoval as a “poster child for why a written tax pledge is important” because of Sandoval’s decision last year to reverse his position against the sunset taxes.

“Sandoval said he wouldn’t raise taxes but did,” Norquist said.

Two years ago, several Republicans, including Roberson, won Senate seats by digging in against taxes and signing Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. This year, however, the Republican caucus has recruited candidates with a more centrist view on taxes.

“We are vulnerable to being cast as the party who wants to decimate education, isn’t reasonable and doesn’t want to do this or that,” said one Republican lawmaker. “This can take some of the wind out of those sails.”

So Republican leaders in Carson City now realize that their G-O-TEA positioning did nothing to help them last year. All of a sudden, they're now running to the center. After all their crowing about their "tea party" mandate of 2010, Nevada Republicans now seem to be abandoning their formerly beloved teabagger base in a naked ploy to increase their power in Carson City next year.

Crazy, I tell you.

But wait, there's more. Anjeanette Damon noted the other side of this move, which is what we saw yesterday.

Sandoval’s move also appears aimed at heading off both continual calls by Democrats for a tax increase and any potential support for ballot measures seeking a tax increase.

In his statement proposing an extension of the 2009 tax increases, Sandoval was clear that he would not be seeking any another tax increase to fund services when he hands his budget to lawmakers next year. [...]

Extending the temporary tax increases would give Sandoval another $600 million for education and other services.

But Democrats decried Sandoval’s decision to forgo a debate on long-term fixes to the state’s tax structure, which is overly reliant on volatile revenue from the gaming and tourism industries.

“Does it make sense to put everything off for another two years instead of working together to find a long-term solution?” Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said. “There are different ways to look at revenue that could be revenue-neutral but in the long run would provide what we need for education. We just need to look at those issues.”

That's the other goal of Sandoval's shift. He's hoping to stifle discussion of bold, progressive tax reform by making us think everything is hunky-dory and there's no need whatsoever to change our outdated tax code. Hey, why worry about future funding woes when we can all just celebrate the $600 million we can keep in schools next year? Now mind you, Sandoval is only talking about maintaining funding at current levels. And we're supposed to be happy with that?

While it's nice to see that Brian Sandoval and Michael Roberson finally admit that we can't afford to cut school funding any more, they still don't want to admit that the current level of investment isn't good enough to improve PreK-16 public education in this state. After all, is it really healthy for UNLV and UNR to flirt with the Koch clan for their dirty "grant money" (with tons of "tea party" ideological strings attached)? And is it really healthy to keep underfunding K-12 classrooms and force teachers to buy supplies out of their own pockets while classrooms across Clark County continue to overflow (violating the class size reduction law that's supposed to be enforced)?

I get it. Brian Sandoval finally gets to burnish his "moderate" credentials by bucking Grover Norquist & Chuck Muth (somewhat) and taking preliminary action to prevent further deep cuts to Nevada schools. That's good. (No really, it is!) At least there's a good chance that our education crisis won't worsen.

However, that doesn't change the fact that our education crisis exists. And no, "moderating" it isn't good enough. We need to fix it. And we need bold action to do so.

Hopefully, Nevada voters will realize this fall that "moderately" stabilizing the situation isn't good enough. Nevada's budget is still a hot mess, Nevada's schools still need to be restored and healed, and Nevada still needs bold, progressive solutions that lift us out of this hole and up to a stronger and more diversified economy. Perhaps Brian Sandoval sees an opportunity to seize the ground Kenny Guinn stood upon by rejecting the extremist G-O-TEA elements of his own Republican Party. Now, Sandoval just needs to dust off Guinn's ideas for tax reform and allow for an honest conversation on investing in Nevada's future to take center stage.

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