Las Vegas Sun

January 30, 2015

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Time to set politics, ideology aside

In legislative testimony from every region of Nevada, fellow citizens have offered stories of their personal economic struggles, and those of family members, friends and neighbors. The loss of a job, foreclosure on a home, the struggle to meet a payroll, the challenge of rising tuition, the inability to make ends meet at home — these situations are all too familiar to Nevada families.

In recent years, Nevada has faced some of its most difficult days. In large part, because of long-standing issues with our tax code, an over-reliance on an economy focused on gaming and mining, and our failure to invest in education, Nevada has suffered the Great Recession more acutely than nearly any other state. For these same reasons, our climb back to economic growth has lagged behind most states.

As the current legislative session approached, I hoped our state’s political representatives would set politics and ideology aside, and then find a balanced solution to address Nevada’s many challenges — a solution that would position Nevada for long-term success. I asked the governor and legislators from both parties to join me in an adult conversation, and to consider every option at our disposal. Unfortunately, politics and ideology continue to hinder an open dialogue.

In a continuing effort to find a responsible middle ground, the Democratic budget proposal introduced this week offers a balanced approach that includes significant budget cuts as well as new sources of revenue. And, most important, it positions Nevada for success, reforming our 1950s tax code to promote job creation and build an educational system and workforce for our 21st-century economy.

To design a leaner, more efficient, fair and stable state government, Democratic legislators examined Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget proposal in detail. There are many aspects of his proposal with which we agree, and we applaud his desire to return prosperity to Nevada.

This same budget, however, imposes extreme cuts to K-12 schools, higher education and senior citizen programs. The governor’s budget does little to promote job creation or attract new industry, and it fails to address the state’s systemic fiscal challenges, leaving Nevada prone to an ongoing cycle of “boom and bust.”

So Democrats looked for new ideas. We met with business leaders, teachers, small-business owners, parents, students and experts. Their concerns informed our planning as we looked at budget models in other states and considered how to adapt best practices to fit Nevada. In the end, we incorporated the best ideas from all these individuals and groups into our budget proposal.

Our approach updates Nevada’s outdated tax code, creating a fair and stable system. It broadens the sales tax to include some services, but lowers the overall tax rate.

For example, the current modified business tax hurts small business and hampers job creation. We replace this tax with a more stable margin tax, modeled on successful efforts in several states. These changes will encourage job creation, protect small businesses and lower the sales tax that Nevadans pay everyday.

It will take time, however, to implement these changes and generate the revenue we need to fund vital services. For this reason, we propose an extension of the sunsets on the room tax for two years.

The Democratic budget proposal provides funding essential for much needed education reform. It restores funding for full-day kindergarten and career and technical academies. Unlike the governor’s proposal, this budget does not rely on the seizure of school capital funds or the need to borrow against future taxes. Furthermore, the Democratic budget proposal requires significant cuts, but it also ensures funding for teacher “pay-for-performance” and advanced degree attainment.

In higher education, our proposal calls for a budget cut of approximately 10 percent. But it restores funds needed to continue core university and college programs, and keeps campuses open across the state. Similarly, this proposal requires cuts from health and human services, but restores adequate funding for autism treatment, ambulatory medical and triage centers, and senior citizen protective services.

To be clear, this budget approach requires a significant reduction in total spending from 2009 levels, and tough cuts are recommended. It is not a perfect solution. It will, however, set us on a responsible path toward stability and economic growth.

After all that Nevada and its citizens endured in this devastating recession, now is the opportunity to make lasting, systemic changes to improve our budget process and the quality of life for current and future generations. As Nevadans, we are blessed with the courage and ability to face our challenges directly and without fear. We have the determination and drive to reinvigorate our economy and prepare our children for success in the years to come.

Commitment and innovation from our state’s political leaders will provide future generations with the tools to educate our citizens, diversify our economy, protect our senior citizens and create a new Nevada.

Steven Horsford, a Democrat from North Las Vegas, is majority leader of the Nevada Senate.

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  1. You want more efficient government by spending more money? How does that work?

    I don't see how restoring housing bubble era spending is efficient - it seems inefficient and irresponsible. Just look at the past budget growth - you want considerably more

    I don't see how you can innovate and make government more efficient if every time you need more revenue you just take the money from other people.

    While the private sector innovates and makes products better and cheaper over time - like this $25 computer that is more powerful than a computer I bought for $2,000 in 1999 - our government gets more expensive, more bloated, and worse over time.

  2. Horsford's budget does not reduce spending from 2009 it brings it back up to 2009. He's deceiving people by using meaningless statistics about the government's imaginary spending plans.

    Back in 2009 the state agencies, through fraudulent accounting measures, claimed we needed to increase spending by more than $1 billion in order to "maintain" services. It was all nonsense. Back then Democrats and Republicans both cut $1 billion in imaginary spending and ultimately kept the budget at the exact same level (it had to see real cuts in 2010).

    Horsford is again claiming he's cutting the budget but what he's really doing is cutting from imaginary spending levels.

    It's kind of like how I had to cut my Aston Martin budget because I wish I could buy one but don't have the $130,000 necessary.

  3. Funny! The title is "Time to put politics and ideology aside" This opinion was nothing but politics and a democratic ideology. By the way, until we have elected officials that are not SELF SERVING fools, the political climate will not change. If elected officials in Nevada would listen to their constituency instead of being pursuaded on issues by clowns in Washington then maybe we could fix things in our own state.

  4. This plan gives us a compromise position that any legislator of good will should take a look at. Its really baffling why some Clark County legislators who for months leading up to the session agreed it would require a combination of cuts and revenue, and who called on all sides to compromise, now seem to have closed their eyes to any alternatives besides cutting services and denying educational opportunities for thousands.

    The implications for higher education are important: a choice between a true shared sacrifice among students, faculty and the community, in the interest of a more secure and prosperous future. -- or merely to "cut our way out," close dozens of degree programs and turnaway thousands of students, and continue with the same economy we've had.

  5. Setting aside Mr. Gibbons's usual anti-government manipulation of facts, a bigger question to consider: why do Clark County legislators not vote together on behalf of their county in relation to the rest of the state. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a 2/3 majority in the legislature to override the vetoes that will constitute Governor Sandogibbons's vice-presidential campaign platforms. But Clark County has a 2/3 majority and could approve virtually anything its delegation wanted. So the question becomes: why do legislators from this county--especially the Republicans who are willing to cut services ANYWHERE but especially HERE--not vote on behalf of the people who elect them to represent them? And what do we propose to do about it in 2012? I propose to work against any legislator who does not vote for Clark County's interests, and I hope everybody else will do the same.

  6. This commentary by Senator Horsford is about putting politics and ideology aside. Let's take an objective look at our situation: about 13.5 % measurable unemployment (probably 18%); one out of seven houses in Las Vegas now sitting vacant (caused by the crash, and the result of fraudulent scams perpetrated by criminal mortgage banks that pumped up a housing bubble to collect enormous fees); and a tax system in Nevada that's like a manic-depressive illness: maniacal to spend a surplus of revenue during boom times and depressed to the brink of suicide during recessions and the current economic crisis. Our economy is sick, barely starting to recover. Any new shock might send it spinning into another psychotic break.

    Is there a doctor in the house?

    Public sector spending is among the lowest of any state in the nation in proportion to its population, including on education. Still: the depressed among us wish to slash our own wrists in a glee-fest of self-blame and self-loathing; the maniac among us wish to dance on the tabletops with tax proposals that don't stand a chance of passage right now. Neither extreme is balanced; neither extreme is healthy.

    Is there a doctor in the house?

    Our state's political system is ready for a lock-up ward. And, sadly, nothing changes: the means of dealing with this illness is an ideological stalemate in our legislature: a political system in a straight-jacket, Carson City acting as crazy these days as any looney bin, its governor like a catatonic stone repeating the same pat phrase "no new taxes" over and over to himself while the great concerned family of Nevada goes on suffering.

    Is there a doctor in the house?

    Almost all outside consultants and business leaders agree: Nevada needs a much more rational, more stable tax base in order to grow into the new century. The Democratic tax proposal should be a starting point for discussion; and the Republicans need cognitive therapy to help find a compromise solution. Sandoval's proposal to cut taxes even further during the greatest revenue shortfall in Nevada history is flat out crazy: a plan that will cost at least 3,000 jobs and so dismantle and destroy public services, human resources, and public education infrastructure that our state will be set back twenty years.

    Reason is blocked. Babble continues. Can our legislature ever learn to talk reason and sense, and work toward a sane solution?

    Is there a doctor in the house?


    Have you not heard the people of the State of Nevada say to you: REFORM THE ARCHAIC TAX STRUCTURE THAT NO LONGER FITS THIS CENTURY NOR SERVES THE STATE?

    LEGISLATORS, your behavior and actions are being carefully watched. You can be known in Nevada State history to courageously step away from endorsing anything that continues the OLD TAX STRUCTURE and stand a good chance of reelection, or if you, "kick the can down the road," as is has been for over 30+ years, you are politically slashing your wrists. The people of Nevada are "mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore." Failure to serve the people you REPRESENT, means that next election cycle they will show you their anger at your arrogance. Nevada citizens deserve to be heard and served by their STATE REPRESENTATIVES.

    This time, in Nevada history, you are going to have to choose who you really serve: your political career or the people who elected you.

  8. HORSFORD says its time to put politics and ideology aside because he is LOSING.

    He hasn't been able to coerce, shame or embarrass any Republicans to "go along to get along" so now he wants to rise above his usual demeanor.

    What a joke !!

  9. I agree it's way past time to put politics and ideology aside and address the issue.

    But we can't.

    No matter how hard we try.

    My best solution is to get right at the heart of the problem.

    Next election, we vote out all the brain dead Republicans here in Nevada. Just because they follow the national idiotic policy of slash and burn don't mean Nevada has to.

    The Republicans are the problem.

    Because they are shoved so far to the right, they have forced themselves into a corner where compromise to them means defeat. Where negotiation means they are giving in. Where anything else except their stupid beliefs is totally and completely unacceptable.

    They have failed. Because that is not how Government with elected leaders works. How it's supposed to work is to work together to achieve a common cause to fix problems. The Republicans in power are so fixed with horse-with-blinders dogmatic views, they aren't even Republicans anymore. They are, hell, I guess you could call them "Sandovalians." He tells them, come, follow me, we're jumping off this cliff, don't worry, it's okay....them brain dead idiots will unquestioningly follow his lead.

    ALL of them should be voted out. Time for them to be on the outside looking in. They had a chance for greatness. A chance to fix Nevada. But they blew it. They are contributing to the further extended failure of Nevada.

    Bring on 2012. I, along with a lot of other Nevadans, am personally sick and tired of the ultra conservative right wing mantra that is thrown out there continually. A motto that has no basis in fact at all.

    Witness this statement: "This spending needs to stop!" This vague generality does not look at the fact that this is what the Government does. To run the country. You top spending, and continue to cut all revenue coming in, it will continue our stagnation.

    The rich must pay taxes. And by this, I mean they need to pay their fair share of taxes. Taxes they have avoided for years and years. Then and only then will Nevada see some recovery.

    This stupid Governor cuts and cuts and dices and slashes, then gives tax breaks to the corporations. Then he digs around in the trash and says, oh! Crap! I found more money. Here. I'll give it to education. And this is after he slashes funding so bad children K-12 are in over crowded classrooms, sharing books that have pages missing and have bindings held together with duct tape.

    Vote all them knuckleheads out.

    They failed. Time to start over again.

  10. Nevada State Legislators: you got to serve some body. WHO is it?

    WE, the People of the State of Nevada, are now keeping tally/count, of WHO you ARE, and WHAT you DO, and your alliegiance. We are NOW keeping SCORE. BETTER REMEMBER.

    The decent, fine, citizens, of Nevada, trusted YOU, ELECTED YOU to DO the WORK.


  11. The democrats don't have the balls to listen to a real broad based tax proposal. They would cringe at having to have their constituents pony up any money, instead of mooching it off those productive members who actually pay taxes. The democrats can't get into office unless they bribe their way in on somebody else's dime.

  12. Maybe Mr. Horsford can donate his $37k in donations and free trip to the Bahamas provided by the on line poker people.

    That's right, Mr. Majority Leader, let's put politics aside. No reason to let partisanship get in the way of the gravy train.

  13. Mr. Unger,

    You're incorrect Nevada's spending per resident is about middle of the pack.

    You're confusing residential tax collections per capita as a percentage of GDP for total government spending. They're not the same.

  14. When the schools are closed, every Professional organization that depends on education will be notified on a quarterly basis.

    Families of those organizations will then decide whether they want to bring their children to 40-50 pupil class sizes or choose another option, Nevada not included. Mining and Casino industries do not need a diverse job market - education hinders their profits.

    Much of the Nation already envisions Nevada as the home of gambling, con artists, thieves, drug pushers and prostitutes. Now we are going to give them a defunded school system.

    Believe that the real estate market and job availability haven't hit bottom, because nuclear options work both ways.

  15. I don't see what about Senator Horstford's article can be argued with. Personal attacks on Senator Horstford (as is typically when there is a lack of real ideas) do nothing to resolve this crisis but further polarize our populace. Nevada's leaders need to transition into the 21st century. Without strongly supporting education, we will be mired in the 19th century Libertarian extremist mindset which is hurting moderate Republicans. We need balance and moderation, not extremism and egregious numerology. We need the spirit of compassionate compromise and not cruel and cold mindsets that have been hardened by political contributions of some similarly-minded "elites." Excellent article!

  16. @Michael:

    You can be serious about the "what can be argued with" in the article. It is nothing more than shallow, cliche-ridden, self-serving partisan tripe.

    And yes, the credibility of the writer, Senator Horsford, is at issue.