Sunday, June 9, 2013 | 2 a.m.
If there’s any lesson to be learned from the 2013 Legislature, it’s this: Nevada needs to come face-to-face with some basic realities.
Once again, the Legislature and the governor failed to take on some of the key problems facing the state, including an underperforming education system, an antiquated tax structure, and inequitable state support between north and south.
Once again, big issues were largely pushed aside and ignored. When it came to education, there was plenty of noise but little action.
Once again, some political leaders declared this a success.
For example, Gov. Brian Sandoval has trumpeted his education plan with what will surely become a re-election campaign slogan, “better schools and no new taxes.” No new taxes, perhaps, but better schools? How? The state cut $700 million from education funding during the recession, and Sandoval’s budget called for restoring just $120 million of it. Considering that the education budget was already underfunded, we don’t see how this will bring about better schools.
But that was the tale of the 2013 Legislature: plenty of issues but little real action. That can be blamed on any number of things, including term limits, which left the Legislature with all new leadership; the 120-day session, which gives little time for real deliberation; and basic politics, which provides little incentive for those who do want to take bold action.
What shouldn’t be missed, though, is that politics in Nevada is held captive by an outdated view of the state. You’ve heard it said that Nevada is just a small, Western state and thus doesn’t need or can’t afford whatever issue is at hand. Really, all Nevada needs is some common-sense solutions, a little elbow grease and baling wire, and all will be all right.
Carson City seems to be stuck in 1980, when Nevada had a population of around 800,000 people, and the state didn’t need as much governing or government, and Nevada still was a small, Western state.
But that’s no longer the case. Nevada has serious challenges that have grown because they haven’t been confronted. Instead, Nevadans gets incremental fixes and proclamations that things are great.
Nevada has more than tripled in size since 1980 and is now the 35th largest state in the nation. With 2.7 million people, it is almost five times the population of Wyoming and nearly three times the population of Montana. It has almost 1.2 million more residents than Idaho.
Nevada isn’t a rural state anymore, either. Eight of 10 Nevadans live in cities or urban areas with 50,000 or more people. And Las Vegas is a major metropolitan area, with no comparison among the other “small” Western states.
State officials seem to forget that Las Vegas is an international city that attracts more than 39 million visitors from around the world each year. And the folks in Carson City often forget that, unlike 1980, there’s no doubt about where the bulk of the population lives — in the south.
Seven of 10 Nevadans live in Clark County’s cities and urban areas, yet those residents don’t see the same support that other parts of the state get because of a bizarre belief that there has to be equal balance between north and south, as if the populations were equivalent. Nearly three-quarters of the state’s population lives in Clark County, yet you won’t see that in the way the state spends money and dishes out resources. As we have noted before, the per-capita state spending of federal grant money in Washoe County is considerably higher than it is in Clark County.
This isn’t a regional issue, nor is it a matter of political ideology or party; it’s an issue of fairness. And it all comes down to how people see Nevada.
Unfortunately, Nevada’s political class has been captive in a world view that champions that status quo and fails to see a real picture of the state.
That needs to change. The status quo and those who support it continue to fail Nevada.