Changing the dialogue
Every election cycle, voters are inundated with political rhetoric coming from all directions.
The common themes are all too familiar. Candidates go to great lengths to inform us they're "business leaders, not politicians." Others say they represent "working-class families" or that they're running "for the children." Still more label themselves "tough on crime" or the candidate of "family values."
We're all familiar with these slogans. Politicians use them to brand themselves without having to divulge any specifics about their particular policy agendas.
In too many cases, these slogans are used as a substitute for clear explanations of the candidates' understanding of and approach to solving public-policy problems.
Then, when these politicians are elected to office, they find themselves lacking a detailed platform which they have a mandate to implement. Without a set of concrete ideas to anchor them to their principles, they become ripe targets for the countless groups that promote their own narrow interests over those of the state.
That's how we end up with the policies we get — policies heavily influenced by lobbyists representing narrow special interests. Policies that regularly fail to fix the problems that face the public at large.
Nevadans can no longer afford this triumph of rhetoric over substance.
The Silver State is home to the nation's highest unemployment rate. Including those who have become so discouraged they've stopped looking for work, 22.7 percent of the state's labor force is currently unemployed.
The state's education system is broken. Nevada taxpayers spend more to educate each child in the K-12 system than those of most neighboring states and, yet, the system produces some of the worst test scores in the West and suffers from the nation's lowest high school graduation rate.
The higher-education system doesn't fair much better. Despite taxpayer largesse more generous, proportionately, than even what some of the nation's leading public universities take in, the state's flagship universities graduate only 12 percent of their students within four years.
The debt owed to retired government workers is large and growing. To pay down a current unfunded liability of about $41 billion, taxpayer contributions toward government retirees' pensions will soon crowd out state and local governments' ability to provide basic government services.
The situation is critical, and Nevada's political discourse must be changed.
It's time for the discussion to be about — and for policymakers to pursue — clear and specific solutions to these pressing public problems.
That's why the Nevada Policy Research Institute, this week, released Solutions 2013: A Sourcebook for Nevada Policymakers.
This handbook — in just 88 four-color, spiral-bound pages — provides current and soon-to-be policymakers with clear and authoritative briefings on the big issues that confront Nevada today. Featuring both the important research and the policy solutions optimal for Nevada, it's a handy reference guide to shortcomings in current policy and the ways in which policies can be improved.
In most cases, the book's recommendations reference model legislation that has already been created or legislation that has produced successful outcomes in other states. All of its recommendations can be submitted directly as bill draft requests ahead of the 2013 session.
Solutions 2013 is a comprehensive platform of ideas that covers each of the major areas of state policy, including: K-12 and higher education, fiscal management, health care, public safety, business regulation, bureaucratic organization, transportation, energy, labor and federalism.
Want to know how to dramatically increase student achievement in the Silver State without increasing the burden on taxpayers? How to transform the curriculum so that many more students can demonstrate employable job skills upon graduation? How to make electricity more affordable?
Want a well-proven approach to improving the responsiveness and efficiency of government? To controlling the escalation in medical costs, while protecting quality? A realistic way that Nevada policymakers can deal with the state's huge unfunded liability in PERS?
Genuine paths to Nevada job growth and economic development?
Solutions 2013 is a powerful set of ideas that will give form and structure to the debate in Carson City.
It's also a long-overdue resource for Nevada voters. Now, they no longer need to countenance candidates who hide in clouds of fog about solutions to the state's biggest problems.
The electorate need not settle for empty rhetoric, because Solutions 2013 lays out the answers Nevada needs in clear and simple terms.
All that remains is to elect policymakers who will act upon them.
Geoffrey Lawrence is deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.