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October 25, 2014

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Jon Ralston on cutting education’s nose to spite Rogers’ face

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So this is what happens when you call the governor an idiot?

He takes a look at your budget, cuts it by more than a third and leaves you as overseer of a mere shell of a system?

Of all the cliche-laden messages Gov. Jim Gibbons delivered Thursday night — times are tough, no time to raise taxes on people or businesses, state government must change — the most pointed one of all was the one-finger salute directed at Chancellor Jim Rogers. After a year of enduring Rogers’ derision and series of missives providing alternatives to gutting the higher education system, Gibbons showed Rogers, didn’t he?

He cut the system budget by 36 percent, which legislative analysts say can be extrapolated to about 50 percent cuts at the state’s two universities. “Why would anyone send a kid to a Nevada school now?” was a popular refrain in the Legislative Building.

Indeed, but that is synecdoche for the real conundrum facing the Gang of 63 after Gibbons’ address, which is this: “Why would anyone want to live in the state of Nevada?”

After Nevada’s years of languishing with bare-bones budgets in education, lower and higher, and lamenting how low we are in per-pupil funding, Gibbons accomplished the unimaginable: He made the situation worse.

A gutted higher education system, even lower per-pupil funding, and teachers — who make a relative pittance and pay for many supplies out of pocket — now having to absorb a 6 percent pay cut and slashes to their benefits sends a clear message: Go find a job where you are valued.

Democrats were distraught and almost punch-drunk when they saw the budget. But contrast that with the GOP types who went to the After Hours Legislative Building, aka Adele’s, and were heard celebrating the governor’s program and sneering at the Democrats. No new business taxes. Yippee! Again. Still.

How wonderful for these folks that they have found an empty vessel in Gibbons in which to pour all their noxious ideas about what makes a society great: The rich get richer — didn’t see much put on the miners or gamers or developers — and the poor get their pay cut. Nostrovia!

Gibbons didn’t just say no new taxes for the umpteenth time, either. He also declared no new tax structure, a preemptive strike against Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford. He did this, folks, while — inadvertently I assure you — making the case for a new tax structure.

“In fact, Nevada has actually fared worse in this national and worldwide economic crisis than many other states,” Gibbons said. “The combination of tight credit markets, sharp declines in discretionary spending and record-low consumer confidence has caused our two major industries, construction and tourism, to suffer drastic reductions. The numbers are daunting.”

By George, he’s got it. Too much reliance on gaming and sales taxes, so a third leg of the tax stool is needed.

And Gibbons’ solution? No third leg, but cut the legs out from education.

No new taxes! L’Chaim!

Of course there are tax increases in his budget. He talked about hewing to the Economic Forum’s projections but that’s not what his budget does. Indeed, there are about half a billion dollars of revenue above what the forum presented, about 60 percent of it from a room tax increase that passed in an advisory question in the state’s largest counties. Much of the rest comes from pilfering of local government revenue, which most people don’t understand is a simple shifting of holes from the state budget to the county budget.

And, don’t miss this, folks: This is being done disproportionately on the backs of Clark County taxpayers, who are losing $66 million to the state, with no guarantee that our Northern governor will redistribute it in the same proportion.

Depressingly, lawmakers don’t have any alternatives yet. The key to the session is the GOP caucus in the state Senate, where a majority of members are open to some quid pro quo if public employee benefit reform and accountability in education can be coupled with reasonable tax ideas.

Until then, the only proposal on the table is the governor’s cutting plan. So higher education is devastated, lower education falls further behind and teachers get to absorb a pay cut while mining, Big Business and gaming are held harmless? But at least Jim Gibbons showed Jim Rogers who’s boss.

Now that deserves a toast.

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