Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2018

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Sun Editorial:

Extension service veto an affront

Reading Gov. Brian Sandoval’s veto note on a bill to examine the effectiveness of the state’s Cooperative Extension Service, you’d come away thinking the measure was an attempt to rob Sandoval’s alma mater, UNR.

Sandoval contended that the bill threatened to divert 70-75 percent of the federal funding currently received by UNR for extension services, which it oversees statewide, by potentially allowing UNLV and the Desert Research Institute to take over direction of the services in Southern Nevada.

But that’s not what the bill would have done, which makes Sandoval’s veto a maddening affront to Southern Nevada.

Here are the two things the bill actually called for: an audit of the extension service between now and the 2019 legislative session, and an affirmation that UNLV and DRI are land-grant institutions as part of the University of Nevada system.

It didn’t call for regionalization of the extension service, but rather to study whether the current system is being operated effectively.

Might that result in a subsequent discussion about whether UNLV should take over services in the south? Yes, but there’s every reason to examine the issue and have that discussion.

A Lincy Institute study in May showed that UNLV had the ability to staff and legally administer extension services in the region, and local governments have expressed a preference for UNLV to run the programs.

What’s more, UNR has operated its Southern Nevada service at a $12 million surplus in recent years, suggesting it has underinvested in the area, as UNR is barred from transferring the surplus money to Reno.

UNLV also is far better connected than UNR to Southern Nevada community service providers. That’s important, because the cooperative extension service addresses a broad range of community needs — it does much more than administer 4-H programs for kids and produce brochures with gardening tips. Extension offers classes and educational materials for the public on nutrition, the environment, small-business development and natural resources are some of the topic areas covered by the service.

So why not allow the study?

In his veto message, Sandoval also contended that UNR was the state’s only land-grant institution, a critical point considering that the cooperative extension service is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and land-grant institutions.

But the Nevada Board of Regents established UNLV and UNR as co-equal branches of the University of Nevada in 1969. Also, a member of the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau told lawmakers this year that based on a 1969 Nevada Attorney General’s Office opinion, land-grant status was held by the University of Nevada system as a whole — meaning UNR, UNLV and DRI.

Plus, it’s not as if the bill was a flawed or even iffy piece of legislation that barely squeaked through the Legislature. It passed with solid majorities in both chambers — 15-6 in the Senate and 30-12 in the House.

By all appearances, it seems like Sandoval took UNR’s objections to an original form of the bill, which included regionalization of the extension service, and applied them to the final version.

At the least, Sandoval came off looking like he didn’t read the amended bill. At worst, he looked like he was acting with a UNR/Northern Nevada bias.

The veto calls to mind a lyric in UNR’s alma mater: “We will ever live to serve her.”

Sandoval appears to be doing just that, regardless of what might be best for Southern Nevadans.

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