Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2015

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Why Nevada falls short on federal funding

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Washington wants to give swing states such as Nevada money, and Nevada needs to let Washington give it. Each year, the federal government offers thousands of competitive grant opportunities for states, municipalities and organizations, often totaling more than $100 billion nationally. Currently, Nevada gets less than its fair share.

Nevadans should want their state to get at least its fair share, and politics offers Nevada the chance to get more than its fair share.

How much is Nevada losing out on? Between 2009 and 2011, excluding stimulus money, the state received the fewest grant dollars per person of any state in the Mountain West region. In fact, in 2009, other Mountain West states averaged about $215 per person in competitive grants. Nevada received less than $130. These figures mean tremendous losses relative to other states. For example, in 2009 New Mexico received about $350 million more than Nevada. This shortfall is not just a regional phenomenon. Nevada ranks 49th out of 50 states in competitive grant dollars per capita and has been among the poorest performers since at least 1996.

Nor is this problem simply mathematical trivia affecting only budget ledgers. This is a failure that has real consequences for the nearly 3 million Nevadans. The shortfall affects schools, health care, civil defense, homeland security, trade and a variety of areas of commerce. It is not simply a failure to procure federal funding; it is a failure to provide for Nevadans.

What makes this funding situation more dire and absolutely shocking is that the politics of federal grant allocations normally lets a state such as Nevada reap an embarrassment of riches — not simply an embarrassment. States with power in Congress tend to receive more grant money. Swing states tend to receive more grant money. States with deeper need tend to receive more grant money. Nevada tends to be all of these things.

Sen. Harry Reid has been in the Senate leadership since 2001. Nevada has been a swing state for most of the past six presidential elections. And the rapidly growing population has led to profound social, economic and policy needs in the state. The political stars have aligned for Nevada to capitalize, and every Nevadan should ask why the state has failed.

Attention must be paid to the effort — or the lack of effort — of the state government. For many grant programs, regardless of the final recipient of money, state agencies are required to serve as the applicant. In many states, even when the government does not serve as the applicant, it assists applicants in navigating the process and preparing materials. Success in this arena requires leadership from the governor’s office down through the heads of state agencies. These leaders must publicize opportunities throughout communities, build relationships with federal agencies and, most importantly, invest in high quality grant writers who will deliver the state a profound and continuing return on investment. Where such weaknesses in state government exist, they must be fixed.

It is also critical to change the cultural view that federal funding is bad, is welfare, shows weakness and is fiscally irresponsible. Federal funding helps balance state and local budgets and can reduce local tax burdens. Additional grant money to Nevada does not increase federal deficits, either. Congress has already appropriated the money. If Nevada does not get the funding, another state will get more. These states will have better schools, more effective health care systems, more efficient energy sources, higher levels of exports and cutting edge research. The Silver State will have the status quo.

Nevada is entitled to more federal funding, and it is time Nevadans start asking where it is.

John Hudak is a fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

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