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May 28, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Back to normal is good, but maybe it shouldn’t be good enough

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval delivers the State of the State address at the Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Whew! Back to normal. That’s the best thing we can say about Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State address Wednesday.

But that’s no small thing. Nevadans have suffered a traumatic economic catastrophe that coincided with a political disaster: Sandoval’s predecessor, whose term was exemplified by the time he ran over his state Blackberry with a lawn mower.

It is indeed refreshing to have a governor who is quite obviously engaged, has some kind of vision and is pursuing evidence-based policies to get there.

Sandoval placed himself firmly within the state’s bipartisan consensus, a center-right, corporatist model that recognizes the state’s deep problems and makes incremental progress toward solving them.

(Until the inevitable occasional budget crisis, at which point we unwind all the progress and start again.)

So the governor, a first-term Republican, will use the state’s improving economy and increasing tax revenues to spend a bit more on education, health care and social services.

He proposed education reforms coupled with more money. To get all kids reading by grade three, he’s calling for $20 million for the expansion of all-day kindergarten among the state’s most at-risk schools and $14 million for English language learning.

All told, he’s calling for an extra $135 million in education funding. He even had photos of second-graders behind him because, you know, the children!

For higher education, he proposed the new construction of a hotel administration school at UNLV and added money to the Millennium Scholarship fund, which allows qualifying Nevada students to attend Nevada colleges and universities tuition-free.

Perhaps most important, as he announced last year, he’ll expand Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the needy and disabled. Soon, Nevada will no longer have the stingiest Medicaid program in the country, and the infusion of federal funds will help us develop a stronger health care infrastructure, which is sorely lacking. (His proposed Medicaid co-pays are a cruel sop to his right wing, however.)

After years of cuts to an already frayed safety net, Sandoval also promised more help for those who can’t help themselves, including support for autism treatment and early intervention services.

I was particularly pleased to hear him briefly mention a proposed urgent care center for the mentally ill in Southern Nevada. This will hopefully keep the mentally ill off the streets and out of our hospital emergency rooms, jail and prisons, which are currently — and shamefully — the state’s biggest psychiatric care facilities.

The budget also includes help for beleaguered state employees, veterans and small business.

Democrats will make some proposals of their own, but they won’t get extra tax revenue, so I suspect the budget passed by the Legislature will look a lot like Sandoval’s.

Then, unless something significant happens, Sandoval will coast to re-election on the strength of his own boring benignity.

Okay, that sounds mean, but I don’t mean it to be. I celebrate Sandoval’s success and Nevada finally getting out of the crisis bunker and seeing some sunlight.

A return to normalcy.

The thing is, though, normal in Nevada was always pretty screwy.

Sandoval boasted of 30,000 new jobs since he took office. The vast majority, however, have been in gaming and tourism, as he acknowledged in a meeting with the Sun editorial board. That’s normal here, but it’s not normal.

In most places, if all the job growth was coming in one industry, it would be cause for alarm, not celebration.

Let me refer you to a recent report released this week from the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, which gives Nevada a grade of “D” when it comes to child well-being.

We received a “D” in health care — we ranked last out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia in children’s health insurance coverage in 2011. We got an “F” in education, with high dropout rates and low achievement rates, perhaps explained by low per-pupil spending.

That’s just the kids. The adults aren’t much better off. Untreated mental illness, addiction, suicide, unemployment. You name it, we’re near the top. Or the bottom, as it were.

So it’s good to get back to normal. But normal’s not good enough, governor.

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