This was a big week for NPRI.
On Wednesday, our Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation challenged the constitutionality of the state government’s efforts to pick winners and losers in the economy through the Catalyst Fund.
Most of the media coverage since we filed the case — and there’s been plenty of it over the past two days — has rightly focused on the relevant legal issue: The Nevada Constitution expressly prohibits the state from giving money to private companies, and that is what the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is doing through the Catalyst Fund.
That constitutional issue is at the heart of this lawsuit, along with the basic unjustness of making a business subsidize its competition, and I urge you to read Joseph Becker’s detailed explanation of those issues here.
But today, I’d like to discuss another angle to this story, and to dive into the economic problems inherent to the Catalyst Fund’s existence.
In case you didn’t notice — and if you didn’t, you’re probably in trouble — today is Valentine’s Day.
And while the team here nixed my idea of raffling off dates with single staff members, I wanted to make sure NPRI gave you a Valentine’s Day present. And since we’re the generous sort, we decided to give it to the whole state and to provide it a day early.
Yes, I’m referring to our release yesterday of Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System payouts, searchable by name, at TransparentNevada.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report this week showing that millions of full-time workers will chose to leave their jobs as a result of Obamacare. As is the case with government expansion, Obamacare incentivizes people to not work.
Promoting transparency in government has long been at the core of NPRI’s efforts.
Not only do we citizens have a right to know how our government operates and how it spends our money, but that information is essential to making wise judgments in public policy.
That was our thinking behind launching TransparentNevada six years ago: Let the public see how government is spending money and how much public employees are making, and trust that once they knew the facts, citizens would demand better policies
Even though I was there when we launched the site, I never could have predicted how TransparentNevada would transform the debate on public-employee compensation in Nevada. From exposing overtime abuses in the Clark County fire department, to being a resource used by elected officials and media members across the state, to hearing union officials cite TransparentNevada as proof that school administrators are overpaid, TransparentNevada has changed the public’s perception of government-employee compensation.
Last year, TransparentNevada earned more than 1.98 million page views. That’s pretty amazing for a site with no paid advertising in a state of just 2.7 million residents.
This stunning success got us thinking about other states that could benefit from a similar website. And there’s no state more in need of increased public understanding of the problems of big government than our neighbor to the west.
I am pleased to let you know that today, NPRI — working with the California Public Policy Center, a California-based free-market think tank — has launched TransparentCalifornia.
This week, the Nevada Department of Education gave itself a big pat on the back as it released Nevada’s 2013 graduation rates.
Taken at face value, the self-praise might seem deserved — the state’s graduation rate jumped from 63 percent in 2012 to just over 70 percent in 2013.
But a closer look reveals that the state’s education officials have merely improved their own accounting skills and done little to advance student success. Prior to 2012, Nevada school districts counted students who transferred out of a district as dropouts. Now, students who move during high school are removed entirely from the graduation equation, thereby upping the perceived performance of state schools.
Even with the modest gains in the number of graduates last year, Nevada still lags behind the national average, and our children are paying the price.
No matter how you want to count graduates, we can all agree that Nevada’s schools are broken and that there’s plenty of room for improvement. While the Nevada Department of Education was busy adjusting its formula to make its failing schools look a little better, we at NPRI have been highlighting real solutions — those that actually increase the number of students graduating, not just improve our ability to count them.
Earlier this week, we held our first Board of Directors meeting of the year. Our Board meetings are always valuable, but the first meeting of the year is especially important.
That’s because it gives my management team and me an opportunity to sit down with our Board and discuss the projects and initiatives we have planned for the year ahead. And as we do so, we’re guided by a sometimes-frustrating but highly crucial truth: We can’t do it all.
There is an endless list of project ideas that have at least some merit. But the reality is that, given the limitations on our time and resources, we have to identify those areas where we can really make a significant difference on behalf of our organization’s principles, and we have to stay disciplined in concentrating our efforts on those things. In short, we need to prioritize.
In the year ahead, the majority of our work will focus on a few key areas: educating the public on the destructive economic impact of the proposed margin tax; continuing to inform union workers of their right to leave their union if they so choose; making government more transparent and accountable to those who fund it; and a fourth issue that I’ll get to in a moment. My job, as the Institute’s president, is to make sure that all of our departments and staff members understand what those priorities are and what they’re expected to do to help us achieve our goals.
As I mentioned a while back, I spent this past Christmas in rural Massachusetts, which is where I grew up and where most of my family still lives.
That trip offered a real change of pace from my typical day-to-day life and reminded me of one of my favorite things about America: that the customs, climate and experiences you’ll find in one part of the country can differ so vastly from what you’ll get in another. As if to drill the point home, I was out driving one morning in the small town where my parents live and I came within a few feet of running over an entire rafter of wild turkeys. That’s never happened to me in Las Vegas.
Still, there are some constants, and I was reminded of one of them on the morning of Dec. 27. As I was drinking my coffee, my dad handed me a copy of the local newspaper, The New Bedford Standard-Times, a paper for which, incidentally, I used to write sports articles as a teenager. In particular, he told me to check out the lead story on the front page. The headline: “New Bedford teachers union calls for United Way boycott.” Somehow, he knew I’d be intrigued.
One of the tenets of conservatism is the belief that individuals and families make better choices for themselves than government bureaucrats.
One of the places we see this most clearly demonstrated is in education. For the last century, government has run the vast majority of our nation’s schools with predictable results. As graduation rates and educational performance decreased, bureaucrats demanded more control and more money to address the problems they created. And despite spending more and centralizing control more and more, results continued to decline.
All the way back in the 1950s, the great economist Milton Friedman introduced the solution — school choice. Let parents control a portion of the money the government already spends to choose the school that’s best for their child.
In the last few decades, this idea has spread across the nation, and now 21 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of school choice. These programs have produced academic gains in student achievement for those participating in them, and also for those students who remained in traditional public schools. And since these programs can save the government money, it’s a true win-win-win.
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution?
I’ve known people who’ve vowed to exercise more, spend quality with their family, eat healthy, read more or even to follow that dream they’ve always had.
I’ve even made some resolutions myself, with varying degrees of success.
A New Year’s resolution is a conscious acknowledgment of personal responsibility — that you have the power to change your job, your body, your circumstances and your life. And you do have that power. Where I’ve succeeded or failed in keeping resolutions, the credit or blame has been my own. I’m guessing your experience has been similar.
When I look back at the past year, I’m really amazed by how much has happened here at NPRI. From helping hundreds of teachers leave their union, to our litigation victories to uphold the rule of law, to our policy work advancing free-market solutions, 2013 was the most exciting and productive year we’ve ever had here at the Institute.
It is NPRI’s members, of course, who make it all possible, and it was wonderful to see so many of our friends last night at our open house/holiday party at our Las Vegas office. In lieu of a typical Week in Review column today, I wanted to invite you to go to our Facebook page and view pictures from yesterday and our Reno open house in November. I hope you enjoy them.