Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

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With leaders in Nevada willing and eager to get to work, this year can be a great one

As the calendar turns to 2019, it seems like an opportune time to offer up a to-do list of items that will keep Las Vegas moving forward in the new year. So without further ado, here are a few doable items for the top of that list:

• Break the impasse on development of the UNLV School of Medicine. It’s critical for the school to make progress on its new education building in 2019, but that’s highly unlikely to happen without champions in state government and the Legislature, given that the relationship between UNLV donors and higher education decision-makers is badly damaged. The Nevada System of Higher Education and board of regents are responsible for the damage, and should work to prove to donors that they can be trusted to do worthwhile things with contributions. Meanwhile, for leaders in state government and the Legislature, the good news is that Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute have already come up with a plan to move things forward. (Video of a presentation on the plan can be found on YouTube by searching “Higher education reform: A time for action.”)

The school can continue functioning as it is now, as operating funding is being provided by the state. But it needs a new building in order to expand and reach its potential, which is going to require no small amount of political muscle. Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak, a former regent and a longtime UNLV supporter, would be the ideal person to get things moving. So what do you say, Mr. Sisolak?

• Start reforming the state’s energy regulations. Question 3 may have been rejected in 2018, but establishing energy choice and encouraging greater use of renewable energy sources remain extremely worthwhile goals. The current energy market isn’t working for anyone except perhaps NV Energy, as evidenced by the fact that a number of major businesses have cut ties with the utility in favor of establishing their own power sources, while residential customers without the means to create their own supply of energy have no choice but to stay with NV Energy. With new leadership in place and an understanding that the voters have given it a chance to demonstrate a forward-looking vision, NV Energy itself should be at the forefront of reasonable 21st-century energy policy. Anything less means the next time voters have an initiative before them, they will grind NV Energy into the ground. This is a chance for rebirth for NV Energy too.

• Fight the Trump administration every step of the way on the environment, immigration, civil rights, health care and other fronts where the president’s policies are placing Nevadans at risk. Whether through the courts, by legislation or executive actions by the governor’s office, Nevada must work to limit Donald Trump’s destructive policies. For hundreds of years in America, we’ve talked about states’ rights vis a vis the federal government: Now we should talk about states’ responsibilities to keep a rogue administration in check.

• Hammer out a water deal — before the federal government steps in. The Bureau of Reclamation has set a Jan. 31 deadline for states throughout the Colorado River basin to develop a drought contingency plan. If that deadline isn’t met, the feds could take various recommendations made by the states and come up with a strategy. No one knows what that might look like, so it’s imperative for state leaders to reach some sort of compromise. Meanwhile, Nevada should continue its leadership role in water conservation through such initiatives as increasing the amount paid to residents and businesses to convert grass lawns to desert landscaping, as the Southern Nevada Water Authority did last year.

• Create a weighted funding formula for Nevada’s public schools. When Nevada’s current formula was created, the Apollo moon missions were underway and Nevada was a vastly different state than it is today. More to the point, Las Vegas is a vastly different city than it was back then, which has changed the landscape drastically. Compared with other parts of the state, Las Vegas has a much more diverse population — culturally and financially — and therefore requires a larger share of funding. The state needs a top-to-bottom approach — a weighted funding formula.

• Hit the gas on light rail and monorail extension. As local officials continue to pursue federal funding essential for a $750 million light-rail system that would connect Maryland Parkway to downtown and the medical district, it’s crucial that the community work toward a system that would connect McCarran International Airport and the Strip. The same goes for the proposed extension of the Las Vegas Monorail from its current south terminus at MGM Grand to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Without those improvements, Las Vegas is at risk of losing tourists and convention visitors to other competing cities like Orlando, Fla., and Phoenix, where light rail allows visitors to get around conveniently and inexpensively.

• Help curb gun violence. This is the year when lawmakers can finally carry out the will of the voters from 2016, when Nevadans approved a ballot measure calling for universal background checks on gun purchases. After the measure got gummed up over a provision calling for the expanded checks to be conducted by federal officials, top state Republicans were all too happy to throw up their hands and walk away. But with Democrats now in control of the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office and both chambers of the Legislature, they can do the work that the GOP leaders should have been doing, and either work out the problem with the feds or come up with a legislative fix. However they accomplish it, it absolutely must happen. Currently, gun purchases involving licensed dealers are subject to background checks, but not transactions involving unlicensed sellers. That loophole needs to be closed. The killing power of legally obtainable weapons also must be addressed. There’s simply no legitimate need for guns and accessories based on military weaponry that is designed for one purpose — to maim or kill as many enemy combatants as possible.

Clearly, there’s a huge amount of work to do this year, and these are just a handful of the highest-priority items.

But thanks to Nevada voters, the state is now loaded with leaders with proven records of prioritizing the best interests of the state’s residents over partisan politics.

That being the case, there’s every reason to believe that 2019 will be a year to remember.