Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2005 | 9:17 a.m.
On Monday there were few surprises in Gov. Kenny Guinn's final State of the State address to Nevada lawmakers. In the past few weeks he already had disclosed many of his plans for the last two years of his term -- the up-to-$300 rebates he wants to give Nevada motorists, the selling of $100 million in bonds to shore up the Millennium Scholarship program, the creation of a trust fund for low-performing schools in elementary grades and the replenishing of state government's rainy-day fund.
For the most part, we liked what we heard last night. In many areas where the state should be doing better -- such as in education and social services -- the governor wants to invest more than was approved two years ago. It was encouraging that he wants the Legislature to set aside $100 million to establish a trust fund that would help elementary school students not meeting the standards created by the No Child Left Behind Act. (We also have to admit that this proposal is bittersweet because the states have been frustrated by the federal government's failure to provide enough funding to meet these education requirements, necessitating more state money to meet what really are unfunded federal mandates.)
Even with Guinn's proposed increases in education, we think more could be done to improve our public schools, especially when you consider that as a total of state spending the percentage devoted to education would fall from 55 percent in the past two years to 53 percent under the governor's proposed budget. Indeed, rather than giving back to taxpayers the $300 million surplus that the governor is proposing, investing that amount in public schools and in other deserving areas would be a better choice. A downpayment on full-day kindergarten would be a great start.
There should be less acrimony at the Legislature in 2005 than there was in 2003 -- Guinn doesn't want to raise taxes this time -- but taxes haven't vanished as an issue. Just how to rein in skyrocketing property taxes is likely to be one of the more volatile issues in 2005. There has been a growing public demand to cap property taxes, but the governor didn't say which of many proposals floating around the Legislature he supports. Instead, he called on legislators to act quickly. But Guinn is going to have to exert leadership, and get more involved, to increase the odds that there will be a fair and quick resolution to this critically important issue.
In the coming days and weeks, as the governor's proposed budget is examined in greater detail, we'll gain a better understanding of exactly how far-reaching his proposals are -- and what pitfalls may exist. But, for now at least, Guinn's agenda is a promising starting point for a real debate about Nevada's future as the 2005 Legislature prepares to get under way.