Las Vegas Sun

August 3, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Time to look south

Lawmakers, governor need to pave way for Nevada’s future

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As the Legislature rushes to close its business in the final two weeks of its session, lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval need to remember one thing: Southern Nevada is the state’s economic engine, and what’s good for Las Vegas is good for the state as a whole.

Clark County provides the bulk of the state’s tax revenue and the jobs, is home to nearly two-thirds of the citizens of Nevada, and should be the focus of the state’s attention. But you wouldn’t always recognize that by the debate in Carson City.

Earlier this session, a Northern Nevada lawmaker claimed that rural counties were subsidizing urban counties because mining is booming and thus putting more money into the general fund. That line has carried some weight this session with people who fail to realize the big picture. Sure, mining is putting more money into the general fund — it should; it’s making more money. It wasn’t that way some years ago when mining was lackluster due to a soft market. So now the rurals are subsidizing the urban counties?

As the Sun’s Andrew Doughman recently noted, a 2009 report by Applied Analysis said Clark County’s economy is “generating a disproportionate share of state general fund revenues, a substantial share of which is spent in other parts of the state.” It added that Clark County “does heavily ‘subsidize’ the remainder of the state” in a way that is “beyond credible rebuttal.”

However, the opposite thinking is ingrained in the state’s imagination, and Clark County gets short shrift, often being drained of its resources. The irony is that subsidies flow to the parts of the states that are most politically conservative.

Anyone outside of Carson City would rightly see this as a topsy-turvy “Alice in Wonderland” scenario. But inside Carson City, it all somehow makes sense. In the name of “fairness,” state funding is often distributed equally — if there’s a building project in Southern Nevada, Northern Nevada gets one, too; never mind the needs or the population.

Consider that in 2010, the state received $1,371 per capita in federal grant money — the least in the nation, according to the Lincy Institute at UNLV. Making matters worse was the way the state distributed the money. Carson City received $19,667 per capita in federal grant money. Washoe County received $1,664 per capita, which is slightly below the national average. Clark County, the state’s largest county, received just $772 per capita. In total dollars, Washoe County, which has 15 percent of the state’s population, received nearly half of what ended up in Clark County, which has 72 percent of the state’s population. Nothing proportional about that.

Or consider the issue of highway transportation. The state built a six-lane, 8-mile-long freeway along the path from Reno to Carson City at a cost of more than $570 million, including automatic de-salters to keep bridges from freezing. The state also is extending the freeway around Carson City, at a projected cost of more than $150 million, for a city that doesn’t need a bypass and whose population shrank between 2010 and 2012.

Meanwhile, state leaders have been presented with a plan to build a much-needed freeway around Boulder City, which becomes a choke point for travelers, commuters and trade between Nevada and Arizona. It’s an important project, part of the vital Interstate 11 project. But instead of investing the money, the state has proposed a toll road.

Never mind that populations in Clark County and Mohave County are growing. Clark County added the equivalent of 90 percent of Carson City’s population in the past two years.

This is emblematic of the problem. The political power has long resided in the north. While that might be good for northerners, who see a great benefit, it’s terrible for the state and the majority of the population.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from Clark County has made the best effort we’ve seen to make that case this year, but this session isn’t over, and the long-standing biases still exist in Carson City.

The bottom line is that Nevada can’t keep going with a status quo that ignores the bulk of the population and siphons money away from them. The governor should understand that and join with the southern lawmakers. This isn’t a partisan issue, nor should it be a regional one. The health and future of the state depend on a strong Southern Nevada.

It’s time for the governor and the Legislature to recognize the engine that feeds the economy, fix the historic inequities and do all they can to help keep Southern Nevada thriving.

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