Las Vegas Sun

July 19, 2019

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jon ralston:

The capital’s red-light district

In a state beset by problems of historic magnitude, with a legislative donnybrook soon to come, the Senate majority leader came home Tuesday to inform the populace that Nevada “has the wrong kind of red lights.”

He’s right. But he was talking about the wrong red lights.

The sensational four paragraphs out of a 30-minute speech brought the Legislature to a standstill (some would say a salutary development), brought (some would say more) whores to the building and brought more scorn on the state and Harry Reid from near and far (both are used to it by now). A pleasant diversion, especially watching every elected official uncomfortably react, but full of Faulknerian sound and fury.

The real red-light problem in Nevada has nothing to do with brothels and working girls — Reid had only one bit of anecdotal evidence for a company rejecting Nevada because of legal brothels and seemed irked by any follow-up questions later. Even respected former state Archivist Guy Rocha says he has seen no evidence brothels are hurting economic development and pointed out other continents where prostitution is long accepted.

“My whole thing is: Prove it,” Rocha said.

Of course, there is no proof of this questionable thesis. Nevada is not sinking because of those figurative red lights but because of the real ones on legislators’ desks that have been illuminated way too often over the years, with too many lawmakers all too willing to vote “no” and so unwilling to vote “yes” on any constructive solutions.

This is not simply because they are willing to lie down for lobbyists or to get in bed with special interests. It is because they have sold themselves to the notion that to find progressive solutions rather than to oppose any forward-thinking initiatives could jeopardize their ability to return to not take action again. Better to vote “no” and keep the coveted elected title than to consider any long-term solutions, whether they are tax increases, tax incentives, tax abatements or tax reform.

It does get, well, taxing, after awhile.

You think major companies would not move to Nevada because of a couple dozen brothels in rural parts of the state as opposed to executives being repelled by the wasteland that is Nevada’s education system? Reid knows this, and what’s worse, he showed he knows it later in his speech, realizing full well the Fourth Estate and others would glom onto his unnecessary “Bye Bye Brothels” verses.

To his credit, Reid addressed the real red-light phenomenon, with a passionate (at least in words) plea to stop funding — or not funding — education as it has been done for so long. These words, not his prostitution epiphany, should resonate:

“Nevada ranks 50th in state contributions to education. Our children really deserve better. We’re not the only state that has to make hard choices when it comes to budget cuts. But few have forced its K-through-12 and higher-education systems to cut millions from already-tight budgets, as Nevada has. And we do this year after year.

“We’re beyond asking our schools and universities to trim their budgets, or do more with less. These cuts, and calls for more cuts, undermine our most important goal: preparing Nevada’s students for the global economy. If our priority is producing a workforce that can compete with the rest of the world, let’s legislate that way.”

Unlike his frivolous anti-prostitution gambit, Reid here nails what others have tried to highlight, even this early in the session. That is the fundamental disconnect between the notion that we have to diversify the economy and the cancerous neglect of education.

From Gov. Brian Sandoval, with his restructuring of the state’s economic development apparatus, to Assembly Democrats, with their piecemeal tax abatements and credits, the Carson City denizens can talk a good game but it is undercut by their actions. The governor won’t consider funding education more than its shabby current state and the Democrats will mewl about Sandoval’s cuts and not present a plan.

It’s easier to push the red lights and go home to their constituents and say they kept their promise not to raise taxes. This despite poll after poll showing the public is receptive to thoughtful dialogue about not cutting education and raising taxes, polls that the Just-Push-the-Red-Light caucus are happy to dismiss here in the capital cocoon.

This red-light malady is not just endemic to funding education but almost all services in this state. The Legislative Building too often is the place thoughtful discussions of such issues go to die amid a sea of red lights.

“So let’s have an adult conversation about an adult subject,” Reid told lawmakers on Tuesday.

He was right. But he was talking about the wrong subject.

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