Week in review: tunnel

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

 “Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.” — John Quinton

This past November, as I’m sure was the case with many of you, I was filled with more hope than I’ve had in a while. Not only did voters across the country support small-government, freedom-loving candidates, but here in Nevada, voters — by a 4-to-1 margin — said no to raising taxes.

It seemed like people were finally waking up — as if there were a light at the end of the tunnel.

And in Nevada, where Republicans took control of the legislative and executive branches of state government for the first time in 85 years, I really thought we’d see some changes.

So NPRI published a series of articles outlining “How Republicans can succeed where Democrats have failed.” We identified education, collective bargaining and public pension reforms as the areas that presented the greatest opportunities for positive change. Many lawmakers took the suggestions offered in these articles — and in our Solutions 2015 policy guide — and drafted bills to turn our ideas into reality.

One such idea that already has become reality is a tuition tax credit scholarship program. Last week, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law an Opportunity Scholarship program that allows businesses to make tax-deductible donations to a scholarship fund, which parents may tap into to offset or cover the cost of private education. There are also a number of bills moving through the Legislature to make needed changes to collective bargaining and the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Unfortunately, we’re also seeing some proposals that are at odds with what voters likely expected from politicians who promised to “keep taxes low.”

Despite having campaigned against the margin tax, Gov. Sandoval is now urging legislators to support the largest tax increase in Nevada history, in the form of a gross-receipts tax similar to the margin tax voters so soundly rejected just months ago. And on Tuesday, 17 Nevada senators voted to support that tax; only four stood up and echoed the will of voters by saying “no.”

Going against the clearly expressed will of the people is bad enough, but Gov. Sandoval’s tax plan — which would levy a new tax on businesses regardless of their profitability — won’t even improve education as he’s claimed.

We at NPRI think Nevada taxpayers deserve to know what’s happening in Carson City as they’re busy working to pay for government’s excesses. So on Wednesday, we released a new video highlighting Gov. Sandoval’s flip-flop on taxes.

The 48-second clip features the governor telling voters, in his own words, that taxes aren’t the solution to Nevada’s problems — and then going on to discuss his history-making tax plan.

We also created a page on our website that lists Gov. Sandoval’s contact information, as well as the email addresses and phone numbers of every Assembly member and senator in Nevada, so that citizens can make their position on debilitating taxes known (again).

Since the video was posted on YouTube on Wednesday morning, it has been viewed more than 23,000 times. Considering that, before we released this video, 90 percent of Nevadans didn’t know Gov. Sandoval supports the largest tax hike in state history, that’s an incredible number of people who now have a better idea of what their governor, once an adamant tax-hike opponent, is now doing.

Numerous people have contacted NPRI to ask what they can do about their flip-flopping policymakers and this proposed tax. Fortunately, it’s not too late to contact your Assembly members, who have yet to vote on the tax plan, SB252.

And of course, if you’d like to help us spread our message to more people, you can do so by making a donation here.

As I wrote to you after the election, Nevada has a great opportunity this legislative session to reduce the size, scope and spending of government, and to increase freedom in the Silver State.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel here in Nevada. And we can’t let the politicians go out and buy more tunnel.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Week in review: five that survived

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

It’s not quite Selection Sunday — that day each year when we all learn which teams have made the cut for the NCAA basketball tournament — but last Friday was nevertheless a crucial decision day at the Nevada Legislature.

Friday was the last day for bills to be voted out of committee, meaning that those that failed to get the green light from committee members by the end of last week are now relegated to the ash heap of history.

Fortunately, there were a number of really good bills that did make the cut, and will now move forward in the legislative process. Here’s a look at five bills in particular that survived decision day and deserve to become law.

Senate Bill 302. Authored by Sen. Scott Hammond, this gem of a bill would establish an Education Savings Account program, which would allow parents who opt into the program to access funds from an account designated specifically for their child, and to use those funds to choose the school or school type they feel is best tailored to their child’s needs.

I testified on SB302 before the Senate Committee on Education, and as I told the committee members, this bill would bring much needed accountability to our education system. That’s because it would empower parents to take advantage of the same competitive dynamics that make the producer-consumer relationship so mutually beneficial in a free-market system. Nevada’s education system has been underperforming for far too long, and this bill (combined with the Opportunity Scholarship bill that Gov. Brian Sandoval has already signed into law), would provide genuine reason to believe brighter days are ahead.

Assembly Bill 182. This bill would enact a number of important labor reforms that would curb the undue benefits from which public-employee unions currently profit. Specifically, it would prohibit government entities from collecting dues on behalf of union organizations; it would end the process of allowing governments to pay union employees for work they do solely for their union; it would exclude management and supervisory employees from the collective-bargaining process; and it would eliminate “evergreen” clauses and mandatory binding arbitration.

For decades, union bosses have wielded incredible and often unchecked power over the policymaking process in Nevada, and the resulting increases in the cost of government are simply unsustainable. The good news is that this legislative session has finally produced some serious efforts to get this problem under control. Speaking of which…

Assembly Bill 280. Another bill I was able to testify on, AB280 would eliminate mandatory collective bargaining for local governments, allowing local officials instead to choose whether to bargain collectively with employees through their unions. The collective-bargaining process has, probably more than anything else, been responsible for the mounting fiscal problems that have caused headaches for policymakers and have threatened citizens’ access to legitimate government services. No surprise, then, that NPRI has been highlighting the need for reform in this area for a long time.

This bill would stop short of getting rid of collective bargaining altogether, and is actually a wonderfully democratic approach to this challenge. Making collective bargaining optional would mean that voters in local communities could elect policymakers that would decide the issue the way their constituents want. If the voters are opposed to collective bargaining, they can elect officials who would do away with it. If the voters think collective bargaining is a good idea, then, well … good luck to them. But let’s at least give them a choice.

Assembly Bill 190. This one would institute a welcome reform to the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System, by allowing new hires to choose a 401k-style plan rather than the current one-size-fits-all, defined-benefits approach. The current system hurts government workers because it’s inflexible — and it’s hurting the rest of us through the crippling long-term liabilities it has created. To wit: PERS’ true unfunded liability, based on fair-market valuation, is around $40 billion.

As NPRI’s Victor Joecks said recently of the proposed plan: “This hybrid system is ideal for today’s younger workforce, which values flexibility in their career planning and don’t see themselves working for the same employer for 30 years. It also allows them to leave their pensions to their spouse or children.” Of Nevada’s growing, PERS-driven fiscal crisis, Victor added: “Taxpayers … can’t afford to have lawmakers ignore this problem any longer.” Assemblyman Randy Kirner, who authored this bill, certainly isn’t ignoring it. And neither should his colleagues.

Senate Bill 158. Here’s a bill that would bring some greater transparency to government here in the Silver State. The gist of this one is simple: The bill would require local governments to release any new, extended or modified collective-bargaining agreements to the public 10 days before elected officials vote on the contract.

We’re all about open government here at NPRI, and SB158 is a common-sense way to let taxpayers know more about what politicians are doing with their hard-earned money.

There are, of course, lots of other good bills that warrant a mention, but I didn’t have room to include them all in this space. So do me a favor: Shoot me an email (am@npri.org) and let me know which bill or bills you’ll be watching over the coming weeks. I’ll highlight a few of the more popular ones next week.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Week in review: giving citizens a choice

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

Last week I shared with you the text of the testimony I gave on Senate Bill 302, which would establish Education Savings Accounts here in Nevada.

Earlier this week I was in Carson City, where I testified on Assembly Bill 280, Assemblyman Erv Nelson’s bill that would allow local governments to decide whether to bargain collectively with public employees. Under current law, collective bargaining is mandatory for local governments, and freeing up those local officials to make that call for themselves has been one of NPRI’s top legislative priorities during this year’s session.

What follows is the text of my testimony:

Mr. Chairman, Assemblymen and -women, my name is Andy Matthews, and I’m the president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of Assembly Bill 280, which would eliminate mandatory collective bargaining for local government entities in Nevada.

My organization has written at length about the enormous costs to taxpayers that result from laws that force governments to bargain collectively with public employees through their unions. In Nevada, we have found that collective bargaining produces an additional cost to taxpayers in the tens of millions of dollars annually — that’s the additional cost above and beyond what government would otherwise cost without collective bargaining in place. Nationally, the combined additional yearly cost to all state and local governments is approximately $100 billion.

At a time of serious fiscal and economic challenge, nationally but especially here in our state, this arrangement is one that we simply can no longer afford. The collective-bargaining process serves as a massive burden for local government officials who are charged with managing a city’s or county’s finances in a responsible way. But the consequences are not just seen on a balance sheet. They are felt by the citizens in our communities whose access to basic and legitimate public services becomes threatened, as policymakers are forced to choose between providing these services and meeting the ever-increasing demands of the public-sector unions.

This is a system that is highly expensive, insulated from accountability, and, quite frankly, no longer sustainable.

Opponents of this bill will claim that collective-bargaining laws are essential in order to protect government employees, and that this bill represents a draconian effort to trample the rights of workers. They would argue, and indeed often do argue, that if government lacks the funds to cover the financial obligations that collective bargaining creates, then the solution is simply to take more money from the private sector by way of tax increases.

All of this, of course, is just one front in the classic conservative vs. liberal, right vs. left debate that has been waged since long before any of us were here, and will be waged long after all of us are gone. It’s no secret where I and my colleagues at the Nevada Policy Research Institute stand in that debate.

The beauty of the bill before you is that it allows that debate to take place in local communities all across our state, rather than presume that Carson City ought to settle it for everybody. This bill, as you know, would not outlaw collective bargaining; it would merely empower each local government body to choose for itself whether or not to engage in the collective-bargaining process. This is important because it would give citizens a much stronger voice in how local fiscal affairs are conducted. If the residents of Elko or Reno or Las Vegas think that their local government employees ought to be able to negotiate under collective bargaining laws, then they can vote to elect officials who will implement that policy. Residents who feel otherwise can vote for candidates who pledge to do the opposite.

Again, it is my view and that of my NPRI colleagues that the collective bargaining process does a tremendous disservice to the taxpayers who are ultimately forced to foot the bill for the resulting artificial increase in the cost of government. 

But the bottom line is that if this bill becomes law, citizens and policymakers in communities all across our state will be able to make that decision for themselves — they will finally have a choice in how to manage their fiscal affairs, and can select the approach that they believe will work best for them.

In that sense, this bill is not so much about identifying a particular solution to our mounting fiscal challenges, as it is about adhering to an important principle — giving more power to local communities and the individuals who comprise them. I want to thank Assemblyman Nelson for his bold leadership on this issue, and I hope you will all join him in supporting this bill. Thank you.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Week in review: what I'll say today

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

I’ve written multiple times over the past few months about Education Savings Accounts, an education-reform proposal that we’ve been promoting vigorously here at NPRI since even before the legislative session began.

At 3:30 this afternoon, Sen. Scott Hammond’s bill to establish ESAs here in Nevada will receive a hearing before the Senate Committee on Education, and I’ll be at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas offering testimony via teleconference in support of the bill. The hearing will provide a great opportunity to get NPRI’s arguments in favor of ESAs on the record, and I wanted to share with you, in advance, the text of my remarks.

Here’s what I plan to say (you can watch the hearing by clicking here):

Madam Chairwoman, Senators, my name is Andy Matthews, and I’m the president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of Senate Bill 302, which would establish Education Savings Accounts in the State of Nevada.

.           The need to improve Nevada’s education system has been discussed at great length and over many years, by policymakers, pundits and ordinary citizens as well. Indeed, there is a strong bi-partisan consensus that our public education system has continued to fall short of its responsibility to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality education.

The primary reason why that conversation continues today, decades after it began, is that during all that time we have continued to take the same approach to addressing this problem. That approach has been to repeatedly increase education spending, without implementing serious, structural reforms to our system. Since 1960, Nevada has nearly tripled public education spending on a per-pupil, inflation-adjusted basis, in the hope that this increase in resources would improve student achievement. That we continue to grapple with the problem of an underperforming school system today should be all the proof we need that this approach has failed.

Nevada’s children and parents deserve better. And fortunately, Senate Bill 302 provides them genuine reason for hope, and I want to thank Senator Hammond for his leadership on this issue. Education Savings Accounts would bring much-needed accountability to our education system by empowering parents who opt into the program with the ability to choose the school or school type best suited for their individual children. This means that schools would have a powerful incentive to provide a high-quality education, because their failure to do so would lead to parents taking their tuition dollars elsewhere. Likewise, high-performing schools would see more and more students come through their doors. The school’s success would be rewarded and, in an unmistakable win-win, more students would receive the education they deserve.

This concept is one we take for granted throughout civil society. We freely choose where we shop, where we eat, where we stay when we go on vacation. We expect and receive high-quality goods and services through this process because producers know that the only way to stay in business is to satisfy their customers.

Those dynamics have been lacking in our education system, and the results have been tragic now for generations of Nevada’s youth. This bill would bring those dynamics — competition and accountability — to that system. And both the statistics on similar programs across the country, as well as common sense tell us that our students would benefit enormously.

It’s time for school choice in Nevada, and I urge you to act on this historic opportunity to make it happen. Thank you.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Week in review: alternative

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

This past January, NPRI had to get some roof repairs done on its Las Vegas office after winter rains led to several leaks, one of which was in my office.

My executive assistant, Patty Andrews, called around to several roofers to get some quotes, finally landing on one company that came out to assess the damage and offer an estimate.

In that instance, as in all the other times I’ve received an estimate for that sort of job, not once did I think to myself, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I should offer him more than he’s asking for.” After all, the purpose of getting a quote is not just to get an idea from an expert on the cost of a job, but to enable the buyer to shop around and find the best price.

So I was particularly surprised to learn that Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget, which calls for the largest tax hike in Nevada history, allocates more money to numerous agencies than the respective agencies had requested.

Just like with a roofer offering an estimate for a repair, agencies presumably have a better sense of how much money they need to operate than does someone not working in the department. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services and Clark County Child Welfare agency requested $91.4 million for 2016 and $95.6 million for 2017. Yet Gov. Sandoval’s budget would give them an additional $3.5 million in each year.

In total, the cost to taxpayers to give agencies the higher amounts proposed by Gov. Sandoval rather than the amounts they’ve requested is $38.4 million in general funds and $109.5 million in non-general funds over the next two years.

It’s the array of unnecessary spending increases like this that inspired NPRI to publish our own, alternative budget for Nevada, called the Freedom Budget. Unlike Gov. Sandoval’s current budget proposal, ours would not increase taxes, implement new ones or extend taxes scheduled to sunset.

NPRI’s line-by-line, department-by-department recommendations for each of Nevada’s 441 budget accounts are actually based on the Executive Budget proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2011, when he was sticking with his campaign promise not to raise taxes.

By increasing spending at a slower rate than Gov. Sandoval has proposed (and by making common-sense recommendations like funding agencies at the levels they’ve requested, not more), the Freedom Budget would save taxpayers $1.3 billion over the next two years compared to Gov. Sandoval’s budget.

The Freedom Budget is based on four principles: increase spending from Sandoval’s 2011 proposal, but at a slower rate than the governor has proposed; eliminate funding for inefficient government programs; fund agencies at the amount they’ve requested, not more; and limit government to its core, constitutional functions. And lawmakers are already showing interest in our recommendations.

Gov. Sandoval’s 2010 campaign for governor was based on his commitment that “we have to balance that budget without raising taxes.” In 2014, he was outspoken in his opposition to the margin tax, which voters overwhelmingly rejected. Now secure in office, he has proposed a budget full of spending increases as unnecessary as paying a contractor more than he’s quoted you — and full of tax hikes like those he once decried.

But as the Freedom Budget makes clear, Nevada can do better and doesn’t need to raise taxes to do so. By spending at a slower rate, eliminating ineffective and unconstitutional programs and implementing policy reforms that require government to become more efficient, we can truly build a New Nevada.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Week in review: something new

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

I caught this news story from Channel 3 Las Vegas the other day, spotlighting Gov. Sandoval’s efforts to win legislative support for his record-breaking tax-hike plan. The centerpiece of that plan is a massive new tax on businesses, revenues from which would predominantly be funneled into Nevada’s broken K-12 education system.

Getting his plan through the Legislature will require support from members of both parties, and, with that no doubt in mind, the governor took the novel approach of inviting three of his gubernatorial predecessors — Democrats Robert Miller and Richard Bryan and Republican Robert List — to testify in support of his proposal this week. Lamenting the state’s dismal educational performance, Gov. Sandoval cast his plan as an overdue and forward-looking solution to a problem that has been allowed to persist for far too long. Thus his pitch’s pithy punctuation point: “It simply is not 1960 anymore.”

That’s true — it’s not 1960 anymore. And much indeed has changed in the past 55 years. To give just one example, Nevada’s public education system in 1960 spent $3,144 per pupil in today’s dollars. Fast forward all the way to 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, and that number had increased to $9,313. That’s quite a change indeed.

But wait a minute. Come to think of it, maybe what those numbers suggest is that, at least when it comes to addressing Nevada’s educational challenges, nothing has really changed at all. In fact, that may well be one of the few constants over the past 5½ decades. If you were to take Doc Brown’s DeLorean back to 1960, kidnap someone and bring him to the present day, he’d find much of the modern world unrecognizable. But he’d also find that when it comes to public education, we’ve been taking more or less the same approach over the past 55 years. What the dramatic increase in per-pupil spending really shows is that for all that time, education policy has been based on the premise that spending more money will yield better results.

So while Gov. Sandoval’s sales approach may well have been novel, the substance of his plan is anything but. What he’s proposing — tax hikes to pay for education spending increases — is the same idea that has been tried, unsuccessfully, since before the governor was even born. Viewed in that light, the continuity suggested by the presence of governors Miller, Bryan and List really was a nice touch.

Fortunately, there is an effort in the works that would come at our educational problems from a new perspective. Senate Bill 302, which would establish an Education Savings Account program, was introduced on Monday, and if signed into law would provide reason to genuinely believe our education system may finally be on the road to improvement.

NPRI introduced the idea of ESAs in our Solutions 2015 publication, and as we explained there:

ESAs are private accounts held by individuals from which beneficiaries can make certain approved purchases for educational reasons. These include private‐school tuition, online education, textbooks, transportation costs or private tutoring.

In other words, instead of the state just sending money to public schools, where those funds are then spent on the students who enroll there, the money would follow the students who opt into the program. Those students and their parents would then be able to use that money to shop around for the school or even school type that is the best fit for them as individuals, while students who choose to remain in the traditional public system would benefit from the academic improvements seen when schools are forced to compete.

It’s a basic fact of economics that competition breeds quality. That’s the case all throughout the private sector, and it would be the same in our education system as well. ESAs would create a true marketplace where schools would compete for students, and the way to thrive in any marketplace is to offer a product good enough for people to want to buy it. Schools would have a powerful incentive to provide high-quality education, because failing to do so would mean their students (and their tuition dollars) would head elsewhere.

Those competitive dynamics, sadly, have been lacking in Nevada’s education system, and the results have been tragic for Nevada’s children. SB302 provides the best hope our students have had in a long, long time, and Sen. Scott Hammond, the bill’s sponsor, deserves an enormous amount of credit for showing bold leadership on this issue.

To his credit, Gov. Sandoval’s education plan does include a school choice measure. Via Assembly Bill 165, the governor seeks to create a tuition tax-credit scholarship program, which is a good (albeit modest) step in the right direction. Still, the thrust of the governor’s proposal is on the tax-and-spend side of the equation, and 55 years of history make clear where that will get us.

If the governor is serious about improving Nevada’s education system, and leading us beyond our history of failure, he should make it a high priority to ensure that SB302, the Education Savings Account bill, becomes law, and that AB165 is expanded when he signs it into law.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Week in review: Catch the wave

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

First came the electoral wave, the one last November that lifted Republicans to historic heights of power in both the U.S. Congress and in statehouses across the country, Nevada’s included.

And now, another wave is forming in state capitals from coast to coast. Will Nevada catch this one, too?

Associated Press, in a story that quotes NPRI’s own Victor Joecks, reports that “Republican lawmakers in statehouses nationwide are working to weaken organized labor, sometimes with efforts that directly shrink union membership.”

A better way of putting that would be to say those lawmakers are promoting reforms that would empower public employees to make decisions on union membership that are best for them as individuals, while protecting taxpayers from the fiscal calamity that results when Big Labor is in the policymaking driver’s seat. The AP then describes what would indeed be excellent and welcome efforts.

The story adds:

With many legislative sessions just beginning, nearly 800 union-related bills have been proposed in statehouses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The list of states pursuing reforms on the labor front includes the newly right-to-work Wisconsin (of course) but also West Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and, yes, our very own Silver State. The degree to which those efforts succeed will certainly vary, but by the time the wave finally hits the beach, it’s likely that in at least a few states some significant progress will be made toward reining in the power of public-sector unions.

So again: Will Nevada be one of them?

Fiscally conservative policymakers have for years been talking about the need to change Nevada’s labor laws, citing government’s increasingly unsustainable obligations to public employees under current collective-bargaining rules. Now, given the new partisan makeup of the Legislature, those policymakers have a historic opportunity to convert those ideas into action. And the next few weeks will be particularly crucial in determining whether they’ll capitalize on that opportunity.

The most promising effort put forward so far comes in the form of Assembly Bill 182, proposed by Assemblyman Randy Kirner. The bill would do a number of important things, including prohibiting government agencies from deducting employees’ union dues from their paychecks; ending union leave time (the practice by which union members receive taxpayer money for work they do solely for their unions); and eliminating mandatory binding arbitration. (For a more detailed look at the bill, see Victor’s recent dispatch from Carson City.)

AB182 is scheduled for a hearing on Monday in the Assembly’s Commerce and Labor committee, so there’s still some time to contact your representative and let him/her know the importance of this bill. If passed and signed into law, it would mark a significant positive step toward reducing the absurd privileges public-employee unions have enjoyed for far too long.

There are a few bills over in the Senate that are worth watching as well. SB120 would make school districts take a teacher’s or administrator’s performance evaluation into consideration when conducting layoffs. SB158 would force local governments to allow the public to view changes to collective-bargaining agreements before they’re voted on. And SB168 would let local governments revisit collective-bargaining agreements during fiscal crises. Good ideas, all.

How many of these proposed reforms actually become law is yet to be determined, of course. But one thing is certain: Nevada cannot afford — and I mean that in a pure dollars-and-cents way — to continue on its present course on labor policy.

Surf’s up.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Week in Review: closed government

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

It’s always nice when NPRI and the ACLU can agree on something.

Unfortunately, on the occasions when this happens, it usually means the government is doing something really, really bad.

And this time is no exception.

Earlier this week, our executive vice president, Victor Joecks, testified in Carson City against the bill the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial board called the “Worst Bill of 2015.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. That must be an exaggeration.

But have you read SB28?

If passed, this bill would make public records so expensive to obtain that government effectively wouldn’t have to release the information it doesn’t want the public to see. Under SB28, government agencies could charge for public-records requests as soon as an employee has spent just 30 minutes working on the request.

It gets worse.

The bill would also allow government agencies to charge for records that are more than 25 pages long, regardless of how long it takes an employee to compile the record, and regardless of whether that record is provided electronically or in print. Originally, the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities proposed to attach a 50-cents-per-page charge for records more than 25 pages long — even if emailed to the requester — but said on Wednesday it would lower the proposed fee to 25 cents per page.

At 50 cents or 25, the idea is still to close the doors to the public, not open them.

During Wednesday’s hearing, numerous government officials spoke out in favor of the bill, one even saying SB28 is needed to prevent disgruntled former employees from abusing public-records requests as a means of extorting money from cities. Many of them claimed the bill really has nothing to do with limiting transparency (which they said they’re all for), but listening to the diverse collection of the bill’s opponents revealed its dangerous nature.

Take the testimony of Stanton Tang, the news director for KOLO 8 News. He brought with him bags full of the public records his outlet obtained following the Sparks Middle School shooting. The records that allowed his reporters to tell a very important story to the public may never have been accessible under the costs that would be imposed by SB28.

Barry Smith, the executive director of the Nevada Press Association, pointed to the Review-Journal’s award-winning exposé on police shootings as evidence that public-records requests — the very requests that would effectively be made impossible by the passage of SB28 — serve the public good. He went on to note that approximately 94 percent of public-records requests come not from the media but from individual citizens.

Our own Karen Gray is a testament to that. Before coming to work as a researcher and reporter at the Institute’s Nevada Journal, Karen was a concerned parent trying to keep watch on the Clark County School District, which refused to provide her access to public records until a judge ordered the district to comply. SB28 would give the district the ability to hold such records hostage.

Then of course there’s the ACLU of Nevada, an organization that doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with us here at NPRI but has nevertheless been a consistent and laudable proponent of government transparency.

And let’s not forget the thousands of people who visit TransparentNevada.com each year and benefit as a result of government agencies across the state complying with the Nevada Public Records Act and providing employee-compensation information so citizens can understand how their tax dollars are being spent.

I can only imagine that at 50 cents a page — or even 25 cents — such efforts to keep Nevada government open and accountable to the people who fund it wouldn’t be possible.

Government agencies in Nevada are already allowed to charge for records requests that require an extraordinary use of staff time, such as those filed to abuse the system or for commercial purposes. The result of SB28 would be to give government agencies more leeway in choosing which information it will make public. And we’ve seen plenty of examples demonstrating that politicians, left to their own devices, seldom err on the side of openness. (Once again, I’m looking at you, Hillary Clinton.)

Listening to testimony Wednesday by government officials bemoaning the sometimes-difficult task of answering to the public made me wonder how many of them understand that they work for us, the taxpayers.

A transparent government is an accountable government. Let’s make sure Nevada government stays accountable to the people it exists to serve.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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Testimony on SB138: End the unjust practice of civil asset forfeiture

Submitted by Robert Fellner, Nevada Policy Research Institute

Hello, my name is Robert Fellner, and I’m with the Nevada Policy Research Institute. We completely support   Senate Bill No. 138, which offers Nevada the opportunity to step out of the dark ages and end the unjust practice of civil asset forfeiture.

Presently, Nevada’s forfeiture laws allow for the perversion of one of the most sacred principles of the American justice system – that one is innocent until proven guilty. Under civil asset forfeiture, this principle is reversed; law enforcement can seize property from innocent Nevadans merely by suspecting it may be associated with a crime. Innocent owners must then bear the burden, and cost, of proving their innocence.

If one is puzzled at how such a concept could even come into law, you are in good company. The legal origin for civil asset forfeiture dates back to the dark ages when people believed that objects could act on their own accord and even cause harm to others![i]

Needless to say, such beliefs, or any laws based upon these beliefs, have no place in today’s society.

The problems with forfeiture laws don’t end there, however. Currently, Nevada law enforcement can directly profit from the sale of seized property, creating a very troubling set of incentives for our sworn officers to work under. It is a serious disservice to the institution of policing to place officers in a position where they must balance monetary gain for their department against their sworn duty.

This conflicting set of incentives was on full display when Nevada’s forfeiture laws were featured in the Wall Street Journal last year.[ii] The article centered on a Humboldt County Sheriff who seized $50,000 in cash from an innocent motorist who had committed no crime other than going 3 mph over the speed limit!

Thankfully, SB138 offers Nevada the opportunity to lead the Nation in civil asset forfeiture reform by restoring the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” The cornerstone of SB138 is the mandate that property can only be seized from those who have actually been found guilty of a crime, not merely suspected of one. It is hard to imagine how one could even oppose this; unsurprisingly, this issue enjoys widespread bi-partisan support.

To wit, the ACLU has long championed forfeiture reform, correctly noting that these laws “put our civil liberties and property rights under assault.”[iii] Eric Holder recently announced a scaling back of the practice on the federal level while The Heritage Foundation called for reform in their November 2014 policy brief[iv]. Even two of the architects of forfeiture during the Reagan Administration, John Yoder and Brad Yates, have announced that “the program began with good intentions but now, having failed in both purpose and execution, it should be abolished.”[v]

SB138 offers you the tremendous opportunity to directly end a great injustice.  Seize this opportunity and let us show the Nation that Nevada governs with justice as her highest ideal.


[i] Boudreaux, D. J., & Pritchard, A. C. (1996). Civil forfeiture and the war on drugs: Lessons from economics and history. San Diego Law Review, 33, 79-135.

[ii] Elinson, Z (2014, March 16) Asset Forfeiture Gets a Close Look in Nevada. The Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304017604579443662954464596

[iv]Richardson, Jordan (2014, November) Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Goes Mainstream http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/11/civil-asset-forfeiture-reform-goes-mainstream (Accessed on 2015, March 2)

[v] John Yoder and Brad Cates, “Government Self-Interest Corrupted a Crime-Fighting Tool into an Evil,” The Washington Post, September 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/abolish-the-civil-asset-forfeiture-program-we-helped-create/2014/09/18/72f089ac-3d02-11e4- b0ea-8141703bbf6f_story.html (accessed November 14, 2014).


NPRI testimony on Gov. Sandoval’s education spending plan

Submitted by Victor Joecks, Nevada Policy Research Institute

Hello, my name is Victor Joecks, and I’m with the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

I was glad last week to hear Sen. Michael Roberson address what should be the most obvious question: Why has decades of spending increases not led to increases in student achievement?

For context, here is what Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau has found regarding Nevada education spending. Adjusted for inflation, per-pupil spending was $4,854 in 1983. In 2011, our per-pupil spending was $8,781. So our inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending has nearly doubled while Nevada’s graduation rate fell under 50 percent.

I was disappointed that the answer to Sen. Roberson’s question was just an emphasis on the problems Nevada’s students are facing. It’s because of the those problems that it is imperative that the legislature not believe that money plus good intentions will increase student achievement.

As an aside, school choice is the proven solution.

The best example of this is class-size reduction. While Nevada has spent $2.8 billion on this program, in 2013, just 27 percent of Nevada’s 4th graders were proficient or better on the NAEP fourth grade reading test.

Last week, Supt. Dale Erquiaga even acknowledged that there is no correlation between class size and star rankings.

I ask you to consider the effectiveness of the money Nevada is already spending before assuming this new spending will help Nevada students.

I also encourage this committee to look at students/teacher ratios. Last week, Supt. Erquiaga said there are 25,000 teachers in Nevada with 450,000 students. That’s a student to teacher ratio of 18 to 1. Why are classes being reported at 40 to 50 to 1? Where are the other teachers?

Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions. 

Total Records: 1890

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