Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2023

J. Patrick Coolican:

Coolican: Time for Southern Nevada to stand up to northern pols

Southern Nevada’s always been stiffed, budget-wise; now look where power center’s roots are

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

The War of Northern Aggression is a repugnant phrase, used by traitorous Confederates to create the fiction of a just cause in the face of the horrible war the nation endured to preserve the union and end slavery.

But I’m happy to use it in the present circumstances: We in Southern Nevada — without which the state would be like South Dakota, but duller — get a raw deal from rural and Northern Nevada.

We are the state’s economic engine and have three-fourths of the population. We’re a global metropolis with an iconic boulevard, a Gehry building, a Cleveland Clinic, a performing arts center on the way. We host 40 million visitors every year.

But somehow we’re beholden to a bunch of dirt farmers and welfare cowboys and people who think it would be fine to drive nuclear waste through our city to Yucca Mountain but can’t pronounce “nuclear.”

Then there’s the Bishop Manogue High School class of 1981.

That’s the clique that is currently running the state, having produced Gov. Brian Sandoval — “the Governor of Reno,” as a UNLV source quipped — and his chief of staff, Heidi Gansert. Senior adviser Dale Erquiaga, who has been friends with Sandoval since grade school, was at Churchill County High School back in those days of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” before heading to — you guessed right! — UNR. (To be fair, Erquiaga has lived in Southern Nevada and did stints at the Clark County School District and Henderson City Hall.)

Sandoval’s closest outside advisers? Greg Ferraro, who went to a rival high school and pledged a rival UNR fraternity, and Pete Ernaut, another current Reno-ite but a real cosmopolitan — he grew up among Mormon crickets in Elko.

The injustice done to the south is hardly new. But during our boom years, what did we care? We were busy building a world city while the Reno police department was being lampooned by a TV show that wasn’t even filmed there.

Given the austerity budget we’re about to face, however, it’s time to rightfully claim what’s ours.

The bill of particulars:

• K-12: According to a 2010 report published by the economic consulting firm Applied Analysis, we receive two-thirds of state education dollars, but serve 71 percent of the total state enrollment. After the latest round of cuts, the district receives $4,962 per student, second lowest in the state. This is apparently due to the possibility of litigation — it’s more expensive to educate kids in the rural counties because they can’t achieve the kinds of savings we get from our size, so if they didn’t get more money, rural parents could sue the state and say they were being denied equal protection under the law. But who can possibly argue that we don’t have the biggest educational challenges, given all our students without English skills, our child poverty rates and stubborn achievement gaps?

The governor’s budget proposes taking our school construction bond money and using it for operating expenses, which we’re told will come back to us, dollar for dollar. If you believe that, I’d love to sell you the brand-new Galena Creek Bridge on the new expressway from Reno to Carson City (no, really, there is such a bridge — the Bridge from Nowhere to Nowhere).

• Higher Education: The budget passed by the 2009 Legislature, using the state’s complex higher education funding formula, awarded UNR $1,913 more per student than UNLV. Another way to represent the disparity: For every dollar of tuition UNLV collects, it receives $1.46 from the state, while UNR receives $2.57. For every dollar of tuition CSN collects, it receives $2, while Western Nevada College receives $5.

Elliott Parker, chairman of the UNR economics department, has analyzed the disparity and found that instructional dollars per student are roughly equal at the two universities, with the extra money at UNR going to maintenance of its much older buildings and the administration of special programs such as the medical school. Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich is calling for a re-examination of the funding formula to determine if it needs adjusting, and in a later column, I’ll examine this question in more depth.

But for now, let’s just consider the medical school: Why is it in Reno? ’Nuff said.

• Social Services: The Reno gang is looking to take money we get for our vast social service needs or just push new responsibilities onto Clark County. (To be fair, this would impact Washoe County, as well.) This means the county has to find money somewhere to take care of the severely disabled; the mentally ill; abused and neglected children; and those too poor to pay for hospital care. Other programs affected include child support enforcement, youth camps for juvenile offenders and community corrections.

All this would be fine if we could tax ourselves, as in other states with a geographic divide, and thus determine our own destiny. But because we don’t have “home rule,” we have very little say in our own tax rates, instead having to rely on elected officials who are naturally prone to Carson City Stockholm syndrome.

And here I get to the main point: It’s time for Southern Nevada legislators — Republican and Democrat alike — to stop acting like they represent Ely and start taking from the Governor of Reno what’s rightfully ours.

Who will be our Stonewall Jackson?

Coolican’s columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays.

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