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January 27, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Back to normal is good, but maybe it shouldn’t be good enough



Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval delivers the State of the State address at the Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Whew! Back to normal. That’s the best thing we can say about Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State address Wednesday.

But that’s no small thing. Nevadans have suffered a traumatic economic catastrophe that coincided with a political disaster: Sandoval’s predecessor, whose term was exemplified by the time he ran over his state Blackberry with a lawn mower.

It is indeed refreshing to have a governor who is quite obviously engaged, has some kind of vision and is pursuing evidence-based policies to get there.

Sandoval placed himself firmly within the state’s bipartisan consensus, a center-right, corporatist model that recognizes the state’s deep problems and makes incremental progress toward solving them.

(Until the inevitable occasional budget crisis, at which point we unwind all the progress and start again.)

So the governor, a first-term Republican, will use the state’s improving economy and increasing tax revenues to spend a bit more on education, health care and social services.

He proposed education reforms coupled with more money. To get all kids reading by grade three, he’s calling for $20 million for the expansion of all-day kindergarten among the state’s most at-risk schools and $14 million for English language learning.

All told, he’s calling for an extra $135 million in education funding. He even had photos of second-graders behind him because, you know, the children!

For higher education, he proposed the new construction of a hotel administration school at UNLV and added money to the Millennium Scholarship fund, which allows qualifying Nevada students to attend Nevada colleges and universities tuition-free.

Perhaps most important, as he announced last year, he’ll expand Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the needy and disabled. Soon, Nevada will no longer have the stingiest Medicaid program in the country, and the infusion of federal funds will help us develop a stronger health care infrastructure, which is sorely lacking. (His proposed Medicaid co-pays are a cruel sop to his right wing, however.)

After years of cuts to an already frayed safety net, Sandoval also promised more help for those who can’t help themselves, including support for autism treatment and early intervention services.

I was particularly pleased to hear him briefly mention a proposed urgent care center for the mentally ill in Southern Nevada. This will hopefully keep the mentally ill off the streets and out of our hospital emergency rooms, jail and prisons, which are currently — and shamefully — the state’s biggest psychiatric care facilities.

The budget also includes help for beleaguered state employees, veterans and small business.

Democrats will make some proposals of their own, but they won’t get extra tax revenue, so I suspect the budget passed by the Legislature will look a lot like Sandoval’s.

Then, unless something significant happens, Sandoval will coast to re-election on the strength of his own boring benignity.

Okay, that sounds mean, but I don’t mean it to be. I celebrate Sandoval’s success and Nevada finally getting out of the crisis bunker and seeing some sunlight.

A return to normalcy.

The thing is, though, normal in Nevada was always pretty screwy.

Sandoval boasted of 30,000 new jobs since he took office. The vast majority, however, have been in gaming and tourism, as he acknowledged in a meeting with the Sun editorial board. That’s normal here, but it’s not normal.

In most places, if all the job growth was coming in one industry, it would be cause for alarm, not celebration.

Let me refer you to a recent report released this week from the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, which gives Nevada a grade of “D” when it comes to child well-being.

We received a “D” in health care — we ranked last out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia in children’s health insurance coverage in 2011. We got an “F” in education, with high dropout rates and low achievement rates, perhaps explained by low per-pupil spending.

That’s just the kids. The adults aren’t much better off. Untreated mental illness, addiction, suicide, unemployment. You name it, we’re near the top. Or the bottom, as it were.

So it’s good to get back to normal. But normal’s not good enough, governor.

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  1. "Medicaid co-pays"?

    That is about the most stupid thing I have heard, on the surface.

    Where does a poor Medicaid recipient get money for "copays"? A one person household can earn no more than $14,856, or a two person household $20,123. That's 133% of federal poverty level. Ridiculous!

    I sure would like to know more details on that one, but State of the State is no place for details.

  2. Governor Sandoval, considering the hand he was dealt when he was elected, has done a yeoman's job. He did extremely well articulating for 35 minutes the status to Nevadans with the State of the State.


  3. Governor Brian Sandoval weighed the issues and is taking a stand. The devil is in the details, however, and good luck with that, considering the partisan bickering culture we have today. Have to agree with Journalist J.Patrick Coolican, EXACTLY!

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. Thank you for Medicaid copays--EVERYONE needs to pay for his/her healthcare. Sliding scale fees are overused and more should pay full freight but this is a start. Should also DECREASE ABUSE from the chronically ill who look to the government for nurture rather than maintaining relationships with people. Yes, the Governor is moving in the right direction but he still prioritizes dumping money in a broken public K-12 while State workers are still on part time--if those jobs are essential why is part time OK? AT LEAST we didn't hear nonsense about COLA's but we DIDN'T hear about compensation cuts of AT LEAST 10% for the public sector especially City, County, SD budgets--no participation in PERS for the employees. Could we get parity or at least similar accounting of the unconscionable high pay scales at the local level? Example: Most employees have their SS contribution taken out of gross, but not City of Las Vegas employees, not firefighters, not administrators. I suppose the Governor is leaving it to energetic legislators (if there are any) to address SUT inequities. And what is this tax discount for small businesses? Either it's a legislated tax or it's not. END TEMPORARY tax extensions. Put some measure of certainty into our business climate.

  5. Correction: by Chronically ill I'm referring to those who run in for medical care on our dime when there is NOTHING WRONG. I should have said PRETENDING to be ill.