Billions for billionaires, pittance for parents

If the Titanic had only hit the tip of the iceberg it might still be afloat today.

Tuesday evening Gov. Brian Sandoval delivered his State of the State speech to lawmakers and outlined his proposed budget for 2017-19, which would grow from $7.3 billion from this past biennium to $8.1 billion in the next, about 10 percent.

But the fact of the matter is that is just his general fund budget, the part under which taxes pay for expenditures. If you add in all the expenses covered by fees and fund transfers and federal slop the total budget for the coming two years is really $26.1 billion, up from $23.5 billion, an 11 percent increase.

Sandoval gives State of the State speech. (RGJ photo)

Fully 44 percent of that is spent on Health and Human Services, which includes Medicaid, which is largely covered by federal funds for now.

One of the most closely watched aspects of Sandoval’s smorgasborg of increased funding for everything from a veterans home to state parks was his plan to dollop out $60 million to fund education savings accounts. According onenewspaper account, that be $25 million the first year and $35 million the second — enough for 4,800 students at first and then 6,700, even though more than 8,000 have already applied.

Another account reports the governor is considering means testing for determining who gets the education saving accounts — something the new Democratic majority has been demanding.

When Sandoval announced his funding proposal for ESAs, Republicans applauded and Democrats sat on their hands, prompting the governor to quip, “I know it would be a split house on that one.”

The governor had his chance to fund education savings accounts in the special session in which lawmakers doled out $750 million for a new football stadium in Las Vegas, but he failed to put that on the agenda.

Nevada continues to dole out billions for billionaires and pittance for parents.


Another session coming to an end without real collective bargaining reform

Tell me again why we elected all those Republicans. You know, the ones who promised collective bargaining reform and public employee pension changes that would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

So far the changes have been cosmetic at best.

Assembly Bill 280, which would have allowed local government to opt out of collective bargaining, hasn’t been heard from since April.

Assembly Bill 190, to reform PERS, is probably buried.

In his State of the State speech Gov. Brian Sandoval mentioned collective bargaining several times, but he has been AWOL ever since.

He also said, “We must also consider Sensible reform to the Public Employee Retirement System and the way we pay state employees.” Since then, crickets.

Brian Sandoval at State of State speech (AP photo)

Victor Joecks of NPRI notes that only minor changes have advanced on collective bargaining, such as Senate Bill 241. “When you first read look at SB241, it sounds like it’s a substantive reform, but when you examine the details, you’ll find it makes only cosmetic changes,” he writes.

Conservative activist Chuck Muth compares it to Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown year, after year, after year. It is apt. After all, he used the same comparison in 2011.

Fooled again.



Newspaper column: New Nevada or Brave New Nevada? It’s just a matter of degree

In his State of the State speech Gov. Brian Sandoval called for the creation of a “New Nevada.” He used the term eight times in the speech so he must have meant it.

“Because of our collective effort,” he said, “I believe we now stand at the threshold of a New Nevada — a Nevada prepared to take its place among the most innovative, visionary and well-educated states in the nation.”

His budget calls for increasing taxes by $1.3 billion and sweeping another half a billion from other funds into the general fund to pay for all-day kindergarten, early learning programs, free breakfasts at school, English language learner programs, dropout prevention, digital devices for students, social workers to combat bullying, “Read by Three” and more.

He bragged about how expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare had cut the number of uninsured adults from 23 percent to 11 percent and Nevada Check-Up had cut the number of uninsured children from 15 percent to 2 percent.

“We have to own the fact that our K-12 system doesn’t need to improve, it must improve,” the governor insisted, later adding, “Our most troubling education statistic is Nevada’s worst-in-the-nation high school graduation rate.”

With his voice rising to the rafters of the Assembly chambers and nearly thumping the dais with his fists, Sandoval admonished: “I submit to you this evening that an education system for this century requires bold new ideas to meet the reality of our time. I am asking the Legislature to join me in beginning the work of comprehensive modernization of our education system to meet the needs of today’s students and the New Nevada. This work begins with our youngest learners.”

Yet, the vast majority of the things he proposes spending money on have failed elsewhere to improve student test scores or increase graduation rates.

If the governor wants bold, he should call for creating a “Brave New Nevada.” That would be truly innovative and visionary.

If parents can’t afford to feed their children breakfast or cannot teach them to speak English or cannot provide health care, then it is the responsibility of the state, of course. The governor says so.

Half measures such as those outlined by Gov. Sandoval fall short of his ambitious objectives. Therefore, the state should make all children wards of the state at birth and place them in round-the-clock public nurseries run by efficient and highly qualified public employee union members who can retire at the age of 45 with 85 percent of their highest salary for life. That also solves the unemployment problem right there.

Some of these children will be afflicted with attention deficit problems or other behavioral woes, but their free health care will provide nice, calming drugs to make them all sufficiently pliable little drones so as to not unduly burden our highly qualified and efficient public employee union members.

Instead of learning to read by the third grade, some could be learning to read by the age of 3.

As for the graduation rate, simply raise the mandatory school attendance age to 22. Those who are too frequently truant would be placed in maximum security public schools. Dropout rate fixed.

To pay for all this, raise the tax on cigarettes by $4 a pack instead of the measly 40 cents proposed by the governor. Surely no one would quit smoking. That would be unpatriotic. Triple the alcohol tax, too.

Raise the sales tax to 30 percent. Without all those kids to feed, clothe, medicate and provide shelter, that’s affordable. Raise the Modified Business Tax on business payrolls from less than 2 percent to 50 percent. It’s not an income tax, which is prohibited by the state Constitution, because it is never income to begin with.

Of course, cut the gaming tax to zero to attract more tourists and their money to Brave New Nevada.

All it takes is more money and state control to create this Brave New Nevada.

New Nevada and Brave New Nevada are grounded in the same principles. They merely differ by a matter of degree.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: ‘State of …’ speeches were entirely too much alike

Gov. Brian Sandoval giving State of the State speech (AP photo)

Earlier this month Gov. Brian Sandoval delivered his “State of the State” address to the Legislature. A couple of days later President Obama gave his “State of the Union” speech in front of Congress.

Obama is a liberal Democrat who faced both a House and Senate with Republican majorities.

Sandoval is a Republican who stood before an Assembly and a state Senate with Republican majorities, flanked by five statewide constitutional office holders who are all Republicans.

One would expect a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon between the two speeches, right?

“I submit to you this evening that an education system for this century requires bold new ideas to meet the reality of our time,” Sandoval pronounced. “I am asking the Legislature to join me in beginning the work of comprehensive modernization of our education system to meet the needs of today’s students and the new Nevada.”

He proposed spending more money on pre-school and all-day kindergarten, saying, “These two efforts provide a foundation for the future success of all our children.”

For his part, Obama said, “And in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to up our game.  We need to do more. By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education — two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s sure not smart for our future.  That’s why I’m sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.”

Obama wants to raise taxes by $320 billion over the next decade by raising the capital gains taxes, fees on big banks and other taxes to pay for that free community college, as well as universal childcare and assorted tax breaks for the middle class, most tied to childcare and education.

Obama has promised to use a pen and phone to act on his own if the duly elected Congress doesn’t agree to his agenda.

Sandoval wants to raise taxes and fees by $1.2 billion over the next two years for the general fund with nearly $900 million of that going to an assortment of education initiatives.

Some of the money would be raised by making a package of temporary taxes, which the governor twice promised to sunset, permanent. He also proposed creating a graduated business license fee based on gross receipts, which is very similar to a tax the voters rejected by nearly 80 percent in November. He even called for raising the modified business tax on mining companies’ payrolls from 1.17 percent to 2 percent, though voters have twice voted in the past two years to reject higher mining taxes.

To build schools to house all those students he proposed allowing school districts to rollover bond issues beyond what the voters agreed to.

He also called for creating a state run “Achievement School District” that would operate some of the state’s poorest performing schools no matter where they lie in the state geographically.

“I have asked former Washoe County Superintendent Pedro Martinez to help with this initiative as a Superintendent in Residence with the Nevada Department of Education,” the governor said in his speech. “Pedro is here tonight, and I thank him for his leadership on this critical issue.”

He did not deign to mention that “Pedro” was fired by the duly elected Washoe County School District board of trustees.

Sandoval even called for appointing school boards instead of having them elected by the voters.

“Although well intended, some of these boards have become disconnected from their communities,” said the elected governor. “I will therefore support legislation to provide for the appointment of members of local school boards.”

Obama and Sandoval both want us to dig deeper into our pockets to hand over money to benefit children, only Sandoval wants to dig twice as deep.

Obama’s $320 billion in taxes over the next decade amounts to $101 per capita per year.

Sandoval’s taxes and fees of $1.2 billion over the next two years comes out to $222 per capita per year.

So, which one is the tax-and-spend Democrat? And which one is the frugal small-government Republican?

Neither seemed too concerned about what the voters had to say.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Obama giving State of the Union speech. (AP photo)

Newspaper column: Governor’s budget plan is long on spending, short on accountability

Gov. Sandoval gives State of the State speech. (AP photo)

It is called bait and switch.

Just over two months after the voters of Nevada rejected by a 79 percent majority a margin tax on gross receipts of businesses that its backers claimed would raise $800 million in tax revenue, this past week in his State of the State address Gov. Brian Sandoval announced plans to increase taxes by nearly $600 million a year with a third of that coming from what the governor euphemistically called a “graduated” business license fee.

Though Sandoval never used the phrase “gross receipts” in his speech, media reports prior to the speech said the license fees would be tied to gross receipts. This means the governor’s plan has the same business stifling flaws that he and others decried so convincingly about the margin tax.

And those media reports said Sandoval intends to raise the modified business tax, or payroll tax, to 2 percent for mining, the same as banks pay, though others pay 1.17 percent. This disparity in tax burden is one of the very things the Tax Foundation criticized Nevada for in its recent study. Sandoval never mentioned the mining tax, nor did he talk about plans to hike the cigarette tax from 80 cents to $1.20 per pack.

Those taxes that were supposed to sunset four years ago? They won’t, if the governor gets his way. His proposal is to spend $7.3 billion over the next two years on the general fund. The state actually will spend a total of $23.5 million when everything is accounted for, including $7 billion in federal funding for things like Medicaid.

Sandoval is proposing a 12 percent budget increase though the state’s population has fallen and inflation is less than 1 percent.

Most of this new general fund revenue — nearly $900 million — is slated for education.

The governor did not mention any cuts, though he singled out collective bargaining reform three times. No details were given.

About the only thing the governor proposed that might really improve education is spending $30 million on making sure students can read by the third grade and not promote them if they can’t.

Most of the things the governor plans to spend money on have not proven all that beneficial when tried elsewhere.

In fact, the so-called Zoom Schools for English learners that he plans to spend $100 million on have not succeeded in Clark County, which spent nearly $40 million on 14 Zoom Schools and not one of them improved in the statewide academic five-star ranking. Four actually lost a star.

He plans to spend $50 million to give digital devices to middle school students throughout Nevada. The Los Angeles city school system shut down its program to give every student an iPad due to cost and the embarrassing fact the students immediately hacked the restrictions on the devices and started using them for fun and games instead of school work.

Another $36 million is being earmarked to hire social workers to put in schools to curb bullying and $2 million for free breakfasts that already are frequently thrown in the trash.

In addition to all those taxes and futile spending efforts, Sandoval plans to hit local property tax payers by allowing expired school capital improvement bonds to be extended without voter approval.

The governor also plans to take over poor performing schools statewide and have them run by the superintendent that Washoe County just fired.

“Teachers and principals who lead our schools also deserve our support through investment and accountability,” Sandoval vowed, while being long on monetary support and short on specifics for accountability.

Speaking of bait and switch, Switch, the company that operates a huge computer data hub in Las Vegas, is expanding to Northern Nevada with a $1 billion investment and is planning a 1 million square-foot new data center in Las Vegas, for a total of $2 billion.

“This will make Nevada the most digitally connected state in the nation,” the governor crowed, while failing to mention what bait he used to catch the Switch expansion.

The company will get a reduction of its sales tax to 2 percent and a 75 percent cut in property taxes for 15 years. How much tax revenue the state would forgo is not yet known.

The Tesla Motors battery plant being built in Storey County and an Apple facility in Reno also got huge tax breaks.

The Nevada Constitution clearly states: “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …”

The governor’s plan is hardly uniform and equal on several fronts.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.