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August 29, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Political realities win

Governor, Legislature let the status quo continue in Nevada

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When the Legislature wraps up its work this week, the session will be marked as one of missed opportunities.

At the start of the session, there was talk of doing things differently this year. There were high hopes of lawmakers reworking the inequitable tax code and transforming public education, but unless something dramatic happens in the last two days, the Legislature will go home with considerable work undone.

That’s not to say nothing happened this year. The session has certainly seen good people trying to do good things, and there have been some necessary and important laws passed. But when it comes to the state’s major problems, the Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval have let the status quo reign.

Yes, we know there’s more money in the budget. That’s a byproduct of a growing economy, not a stroke of political foresight. Regardless, as of this writing, the cuts in K-12 education over the past four years still overwhelmingly outweigh the increase, meaning the state once again is shortchanging future generations. In higher education, the promises of more money to Southern Nevada schools don’t seem to have panned out as hoped. The money is expected to be a slight increase over what it has cost to run the schools, which is not close to what the schools need to position themselves to prepare Nevada’s workforce for the 21st century.

Those are just two of the examples of what has happened this year in Carson City. On the major issues, political leaders have moved incrementally, if at all, just as they have in the past.

We know why: There are “political realities” that prevent lawmakers and the governor from doing more. That may be understandable in Carson City, but the politicians should understand something: Nevadans don’t live in political realities, but they often have to live in spite of them.

Those political realities, such as the foolish no-new-taxes pledges, have hampered real investment in public education for decades, and they have had damaging consequences.

Research by the Brookings Institution showed that cities in the Mountain West with relatively high education levels were quicker to recover from the awful economy. The lack of a well-educated workforce also has been shown to be a detriment to the state’s efforts to diversify the economy. It’s no wonder then that Nevada, having neither a strong education system nor a diverse economy, suffered among the worst in the nation because of the recession and is still struggling to shake it off.

The recession should have been a wake-up call, and it should have led to political leaders envisioning what Nevada really should be doing. The status quo, and all of the empty rhetoric used to support it, should have been forcefully challenged this year inside the Legislature. Two examples:

• How is it that Nevadans continue to accept a school system that so badly underperforms? Instead of having the surreal debate about money vs. reforms, lawmakers and the governor should have tackled the full problem.

• “No new taxes” has been used to block attempts to change to the state’s tax code, which lets massive, out-of-state corporations enjoy Nevada virtually tax-free. Nevada’s small businesses and the gaming industry don’t get that type of treatment. Political leaders in Carson City could have addressed those inequities instead of stumbling over the fear of raising taxes.

This legislative session was all about political realities, which turned into: Don’t tax anyone, don’t do anything dramatic until the economy improves. We have heard that before and know how that game plays out. (Hint: The economy, even in the boom years, has never been good enough for the politicians to make the needed changes.)

So here Nevada is once again in a familiar situation. The Legislature will adjourn shortly, and the problems will be put off for two more years. Once again, the status quo wins.

No one should be happy with this.

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