Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

A failure to collect

Nevada passes on opportunity to take federal aid to help the state

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In an op-ed piece in the Sun last week, John Hudak proclaimed that Nevada is in a position to “reap an embarrassment of riches” from Washington.

Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said the stars were aligned for Nevada: It’s a swing state, it has political clout (native son Harry Reid is the Senate majority leader) and it has many needs that would fit federal grant programs.

But the state has failed to take advantage of the situation.

According to the Council for State Governments, Nevada ranked dead last for the amount of federal grant money it received per-capita in fiscal year 2011, which is the most recent data available. Nevada received $1,111 compared with a national average of $1,861.

How is that possible?

Don’t point fingers at the White House or the members of Congress; the problem is here at home.

Many federal programs require some sort of matching money and Nevada is frugal, to put it mildly. Even with that, though, there are still millions of dollars more that could come the state’s way to help boost programs for schools, commerce and homeland security, among others. But to get a grant, you have to apply for it, and state agencies don’t have a reputation for aggressively targeting federal money, even though Washington wants to send money this way.

Three years ago, the SAGE Commission, which studied state spending and efficiency, reported that public workers and officials had a “lackadaisical attitude” toward applying for grants, which the commission called “puzzling.”

Indeed, it is.

Nevada’s budget has long been tight. There’s outside money that could help people, but there hasn’t been an aggressive push to get it. For example, the state has had opportunities to cash in on federal grants to retrain unemployed workers. But despite serving the state that had the highest unemployment rate in the nation, the Nevada System of Higher Education has received the bare minimum of funding. The grant funding hasn’t been a priority to the system. It should be.

What’s equally puzzling is how the federal grant money that does come here is distributed. A study by the Lincy Institute at UNLV showed that in fiscal year 2010, Clark County received $772 per person, which was below the state and national averages that year. The study, which is part of an upcoming report, showed that Washoe County received $1,784, close to the national average and above the state average.

Certainly, the size of the population plays a role in the per-capita numbers, but why is there such a disparity? Shouldn’t the state want to put its money where the people live?

There’s a long-standing disparity in Nevada over funding and where it goes, pitting the rural and northern parts of the state against the south. Grants are often evenly split between north and south, ignoring the fact that Clark County is home to 75 percent of the population.

The issue of funding disparity has come up again this year in the Legislature, but the north-south fight often misses a basic point — Clark County isn’t just Southern Nevada, it is Nevada.

The bottom line is that the state should be doing all it can to take advantage of grants and other programs that can help people, particularly in the place where most of the population lives. The fact that it hasn’t is unconscionable. The Legislature should make sure this changes.

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