An 800-pound gorilla of Nevada politics is dropping weight fast

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, November 8, 2004

One thing the election showed is that Nevadans are getting wise to teacher-union tricks.

This could mean major, long-term benefits for the future of the Silver State.

Looked at from the standpoint of prudent public policy, the Nevada State Education Association’s “national average funding” proposal for Nevada schools was always bizarre. It asked voters to rejigger the state Constitution so that the floor for state education spending would henceforth always be set by the budgets of 49 other states—and not by Nevada citizens.

Moreover, the union insisted we all embrace this jiggery-pokery with no indication at all of how the huge sums required would be raised, or how that money would actually be spent. Worst of all, the NSEA wanted our money with—as always—no pledge at all it would cease blocking reforms that do improve public school performance.

Yet until Tuesday’s voting, the issue of public school funding in Nevada was still controlled by a level of knee-jerk political correctness that allowed the union to pay no price for its irresponsibility. Indeed, polling in the run-up to the election suggested this would once again be the case. A Washington D.C. survey firm retained by the Las Vegas Sun, Nevada Public Radio and KLAS-TV reported in October that likely voters backed Question Two by 71 to 24. Additionally, the union’s highly paid professional political operatives were promising a massive get-out-the-vote effort. It appeared the presumed 800-pound gorilla of Nevada politics was about to roar.

Except that the internals of the polling, on closer inspection, suggested that the people of the Silver State increasingly recognize the essentially predatory intent behind the union’s incessant public blubbering “for the children.” The two most recent Las Vegas Review-Journal polls, in July and September, never put public support for Question Two over 58 percent—the classic sign of weakness for tax-hike schemes.

Even the out-of-whack October Sun poll telegraphed trouble: It reported the question was doing significantly worse in union-heavy Clark County (60-30) than in Washoe (67-25). This pointed to the growing resentment among private-sector union members of the ever-higher taxes imposed on them by Nevada’s highly paid government-union elites. This rank-and-file discontent, after all, had led Nevada’s AFL-CIO brass to decline to endorse Question Two.

When private sector union members begin talking up the evils of government unions, you know that something significant’s going down. And that’s not just happening here in Nevada.

Last April—after blowing some $3.7 million in member’ dues on signature-gathering firms—the NSEA’s California counterpart, the California Teacher Association, abandoned plans to put a property tax increase question on this November’s ballot. The reason, it soon became clear, was that the scheme had run into massive public, and even internal, resistance.

For example, the Sacramento Bee’s widely respected education columnist Peter Schrag—a certified liberal—was calling the initiative a “blatant piece of single-interest ballot box budgeting” with “no accountability for how the K-12 windfall is spent.” The union’s real plan, suggested Shrag, was the same old bait-and-switch: Talk up “children” and “school needs” during the election, while fully aware that collaborating school districts will “throw most of it on the bargaining table for the sponsor-union,” allowing the latter to “gobble it up for salary and benefits hikes for teachers who are already the highest paid in the country.”

It’s an M.O. that National Education Association affiliates across the country—and in Nevada—have followed for decades. But today, even large numbers of union members find it demoralizing. The NEA’s own latest figures suggest that, behind the scenes, membership in the organization is declining. Here in Nevada, 4.4 percent of active NSEA teachers, at the NEA’s last annual count, had walked away.

All these factors together suggest that an important shift may soon be looming in Nevada’s political balance of power. For decades some of the Strip’s biggest casinos have so feared an NEA/NSEA-led campaign to increase Nevada gaming taxes that they surrendered in advance and signed on to the union’s agenda of ever-higher taxes on all businesses. Thus the long-running Nevada Resort Association campaigns—complete with bogus Arthur Andersen “studies”—producing, first, the business head tax in 1991 and then the gross receipts tax push in 2003.

Today, however, facing an increasingly discredited teacher union—and supported by their own employees, union or not—Nevada’s major resorts should soon start recognizing the overwhelming common interest they have with the state’s general business community.

In other words: In lower taxes and smaller, efficient government.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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