Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 | 2 a.m.
On this New Year’s Day, the Sun’s editorial board is looking ahead at some of the issues facing the state and nation. Here are a few of the ones we’ll be tracking this year along with some of our thoughts:
In a short period of time, Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones has done a remarkable job of trying to spur better performance. It’s not an easy task, and it’s not going to happen overnight. There are no simple fixes.
Unfortunately, the debate often is reduced to simplistic measures, pitting education reforms versus more money for the schools. The answer won’t be found in either one alone.
Changes need to be made, but it’s also clear that the schools need more money. It’s going to take some thoughtful and strategic work to improve Nevada’s education system.
The bottom line: Students should come out of Nevada’s schools well-prepared for college or the workforce. For that to happen, policymakers will have to look beyond short-term fixes and make a long-term commitment to funding and improving the schools.
After several years of cuts, it’s time to consider how the state invests — yes, invests — in higher education, which should help drive the economy.
Lawmakers will have to look not just at how the colleges and universities are funded, but how well they’re funded.
The Legislature also should consider how higher education can take advantage of potential partnerships with the private sector to produce a top-notch workforce.
In addition, state leaders should make sure there’s every opportunity to incubate new technologies and ideas at the universities.
That shouldn’t minimize or undercut the traditional role of higher education.
The bottom line: Universities and colleges should serve as hubs for innovation and economic diversification while giving Nevadans a chance at a well-rounded, first-class education without having to leave the state.
Gov. Brian Sandoval made the right choice to expand Medicaid. It was a common-sense decision and should be supported. Nevada continues to have a high rate of uninsured people, and that creates higher costs for everyone.
His decision also should spur job creation and economic diversity in Southern Nevada, as new people with insurance will create a demand for new services.
This is an area in which lawmakers and state regulators should pay particular attention. There are things they can do to help increase medical training and bring more medical professionals to the state.
The bottom line: State leaders should support the Medicaid expansion and see it as an opportunity to expand health care services and spur the economy.
The push for economic development and diversification, led by a reorganized state office, has gotten off to a strong start, but there’s more to do. For example, the Legislature created a fund to help spur research and development in 2011 but didn’t put money into it. This year, it should be funded.
State leaders have been deliberate in trying to help expand businesses and industries that are already here. They’ve also looked at improving education and other services businesses need. That’s all good.
The bottom line: The state can’t let up on this. It has to build on the momentum that has started to grow around economic development.
For Southern Nevada, tourism is the heartbeat of the economy, and political leaders need to do all they can to maintain Las Vegas’ reputation as a world-class destination.
That includes working to improve transportation and maintain services, particularly public safety.
The bottom line: Nevada needs tourism and can’t forget that.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie is pushing for a quarter-cent sales tax increase, which was previously approved by voters but still must be approved by the Legislature. Critics have raised the issue of officer-involved shootings. Such incidents are being addressed, as they should be, but the sales-tax measure is a separate issue. The question is whether police need the additional revenue, and Gillespie makes a good case that they do.
The bottom line: Police need the resources to do the job, which is vital to keeping the economy and the quality of life in Southern Nevada strong.
Although hardly riveting dinner party conversation, improving the state and nation’s transportation systems and infrastructure must be high priorities. (A national infrastructure bank, for example, is still a great idea.)
Nevada needs to strategically invest in projects and consider what the next 50 years will look like, particularly in Clark County, the hub of the state’s economy. Keeping the airport and the highways open and well maintained is vital. Other potential transportation projects, including the proposed high-speed train, should be fully considered, as well.
The state also should be doing all it can to build the planned Interstate 11 from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Making it a full interstate would push commerce — tourism and goods — into Las Vegas and have a significant economic benefit for the state.
Unfortunately, Interstate 11 has been slow to take hold, and planners are discussing building a toll road around Boulder City to unclog the bottleneck there. If the state could find half a billion dollars for a highway from Reno to Carson City, it certainly should be able to find money to build the bypass, not a toll road.
The bottom line: Transportation is key to Nevada’s economic success, and the state needs to continue to push efforts to improve it.
Quality of life
This is our home, where we are invested and have family. We’d like to see our children and their children have the same opportunities we have had here. That means improving education, the economy and the sense of community.
Southern Nevada has some wonderful attractions — including first-rate entertainment, internationally known restaurants and incredible outdoor recreation. In recent years, there also has been a boom in cultural activities, highlighted by the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
The bottom line: There will be more opportunities to improve the community and the quality of life, and civic leaders should make the most of them.
The tax systems of the state and the nation are broken. Before anyone sees reforming the tax system as a call for tax increases, let’s first face the reality: It’s not working.
Nationally, the tax system is too complex, and it’s not terribly fair.
In Nevada, the tax system is dysfunctional and needs to be overhauled. That’s not just our opinion but that of several major studies over the past few decades that have all come to that conclusion. It should be changed to make it simpler, more fair and more stable so the state revenue doesn’t regularly take dramatic swings and programs have sufficient revenue, and businesses can plan ahead and succeed here.
The bottom line: State and national leaders need to find the guts to make the changes necessary to bring equity to the tax systems and provide a stable environment for businesses.
Government in Nevada gets a bad rap. It’s often caricatured as big, lazy, bloated. But by any reasonable comparison, Nevada has one of the smallest — if not the smallest — governments in the nation.
The size and role of government can be debated, and its efficiency can always be improved, but let’s set aside the anti-government rhetoric and admit that government has a role in society.
It’s said that the government that is closest to the people governs best, but in this state, local governments have little control. They have to go to the Legislature to get permission on a variety of matters. That doesn’t make sense.
The bottom line: The nation ought to be working to improve the government, not tear it down. And in Nevada, it’s beyond time that the state provide local governments with more authority and responsibility.
If this last election proved anything, it’s that public discourse has become more crass and mean. And that’s not just the political campaigns but the way people talk about issues, whether on the Internet, TV or radio.
That has made participation in public issues unpalatable for many people, which is understandable. The name-calling and attacks are brutal.
As a nation, we could use a deep breath and an understanding that just because someone disagrees doesn’t make him a fascist or a socialist. Nor does it make him unpatriotic.
The bottom line: We’re all Americans, and we’re all in this together. The tenor of public debate has run many people off. The nation could use a hefty dose of civility, applied liberally from Washington to the corner coffee shop.
It would help bring more people into the discussion.