It’s not often a state of the state address, in any state, offers a bold and urgently needed program with funding to pay for it. Gov. Brian Sandoval did just that in his address to the Nevada Legislature on Jan. 15. His proposal to reform education in the state is visionary and unprecedented, for which he is commended. Unfortunately, his funding recommendations essentially reinforce Nevada’s regressive, inequitable and inadequate tax structure.
Among the important reforms recommended by the governor are programs for: statewide expansion of full-day kindergarten at every elementary school, graduation and career readiness, English language learners, students at risk, gifted and talented students, literacy, and a statewide achievement district to improve failing schools. Also included is initial funding for a medical school and a new hotel college, both at UNLV. There was mention of “meaningful policy and structural changes” and increased accountability, with little detail. Regrettably, there was no comment on Common Core standards, which need the governor’s support.
It’s estimated almost $4 billion of the new two-year $7.3 billion budget would go to education under Gov. Sandoval’s budget proposal; $882 million of that is for new education spending. To pay for these significant increases, the governor asked the legislature to make the 2009 “sunset taxes” permanent, increase the Business License Fee to raise $440 million annually and raise the cigarette tax to bring in an additional $80 million. The increased business fee, essentially a gross margins tax, was soundly defeated by voters in the November election. A higher cigarette tax is good on its merits because it discourages smoking, particularly among the young.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal (1/17/15) perhaps best described the governor’s tax proposals with the caption “A tax? For schools? Is Sandoval a Republican?” Not surprisingly, many members of Mr. Sandoval’s own party would ask those questions and regard his progressive recommendations as conservative heresy.
Numerous Democratic legislators have expressed their support of the reforms and the governor’s intent to bring tax revenues more in line with needed state programs.
Also included in the governor’s proposals were undefined recommendations to provide for local school boards to be appointed instead of elected by the people, teacher collective bargaining reform and increased school choice, as well as the consolidation of small schools and reduction of large districts. These proposals should be approached with great caution, particularly any diminution of teacher collective bargaining rights and greater school choice, a threat to the integrity of public schools and an ominous risk for children of lower income families.
Because of strong anti-tax sentiment among Republican legislators, Mr. Sandoval will have to exert strong leadership, and show he can twist arms, to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority to gain passage of the tax increases. In view of this, he may have been prudent not to delay broad fiscal reform at this time. But he should begin immediately after the 2015 legislative session to build consensus for constitutional changes allowing state income taxes and simple majority passage of tax bills.
It’s difficult to understand opposition to improving public education and an anti-government mentality reflected in knee-jerk opposition to any and all taxation for needed public programs.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at email@example.com.