Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008 | 2 a.m.
An open letter to Jim Rogers, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education:
The system is broken. That is not news to you, I know, but it may be to the 3 million-plus Nevadans who are awash in their own financial and societal issues during this very difficult time. So much so that they are willing to accept whatever palliative the political leadership in this state sends their way.
That is why it is essential that you continue, in the words of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, to just say “no” to any further requests by the governor or anyone else to cut the budgets of higher education in our state. Just as T. Boone Pickens rightly says we cannot drill our way out of oil dependency, we cannot “cut” our way out of this incredibly deep financial hole in which we find ourselves.
As you know, I was one of eight members of the public who came together at the beginning of this new century (the Governor’s Task Force on Tax Policy) to try to find a solution to the unsustainable tax structure upon which Nevadans were relying to fund needed services and infrastructure into the future.
Back then, we determined that we needed close to $1 billion just to get the state out of the hole we had dug because we had continually refused to face the reality that our tax structure was broken. After we got even, we could then consider what kind of quality of life we wanted in this state — the quality and quantity of our roads, housing, education, from kindergarten through college, — things that encourage the kind of growth that all Nevadans should want for themselves and their families.
As you know, the forces of regression won that day and even though the Legislature enacted some tax increases that hurt small businesses in a disproportionate way, the real problem was ignored again. So now we find ourselves a few years later facing deficits much larger than even we predicted, with the same regressive thought at the helm of state government.
Rather than having a state blessed with the kind of leadership that educates on the need for all of us who make a living in this state to step up and be part of the required revenue solutions, we are burdened with a leader who believes sticking his head in the sands of yesterday will magically make our tomorrows better. To pay attention to him is folly, and we do so at our own peril.
And the burden of that failure to lead, once again, falls directly on the back of the education system. This is not only untenable and unacceptable, but it also is sheer lunacy. There is no state in this country that is prospering — even in these difficult times — that does not provide opportunities for a first-class education. It is beyond discussion that a state needs a top-notch university system as well as a first-class K-12 program if it wants to attract the kind of long-term, high-paying business growth that makes good communities great and creates enviable states out of average ones.
On a personal note, my family, like others, has invested tens of millions of dollars in education at all levels, especially in our latest effort with the opening Greenspun Hall at UNLV. We made these commitments based on the understanding from state officials on down that UNLV would always be adequately funded and that what we were doing was providing money to make a good school better. At no time was there any belief that our funding — and that of other generous community donors — would be used to replace operational state funding rather than complement it.
Jim, I know it is hard to be the only person displaying any leadership on this issue, but you must stand tall for education. What you do not only affects the university system but also has an effect on public attitudes toward K-12.
These are tough economic times for people, so no one wants to spend money unwisely or unnecessarily. But I am convinced that most Nevadans are willing to spend what is essential to provide a strong, growing and responsible education system. And that means that good people across this state understand the need for those who can contribute, to do so. It is my hope that this next Legislature will finally do its job and right our sadly sinking ship of state. It is easy to do as long as we only ask those who can afford it — including not only gaming but also banking, mining, media, real estate and every other industry using public services in the process — to do their fair share.
In the meantime, Jim, do not give in and do not give up. Just say “no” to the idiocy that masquerades in this state as leadership.
All you have to lose in this effort is your time and a little money. There are millions of other Nevadans, though, who stand to lose their dreams.
Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.