Margin-tax proponents factually wrong, just five seconds into first TV ad

Victor Joecks

Proponents of the ballot proposal for a job-killing margin-tax made a $700,000 TV-advertising buy that begins today, as reported by liberal pundit Jon Ralston.

Their first ad begins ominously: “For decades, politicians and big businesses have done nothing to increase education funding.”

Wait … what?

You read that correctly. The backers of the margin tax are claiming that politicians haven’t increased Nevada’s education spending in the last 20, 30, 40 or 50 years.

This is factually incorrect on every level, as data from both national and state sources shows.

The best national source for education spending data is the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics.

According to NCES data, Nevada has increased its current expenditures on public elementary and secondary education from $87.27 million in the 1969-1970 school year to a staggering $3.68 billion in the 2010-2011 school year.

There were two very natural reasons for Nevada’s education spending to soar. The first was a dramatic increase in the number of Nevada students. In the 1969-1970 school year, the average daily attendance in Nevada’s schools was 113,421. In the 2010-2011 school year, that number had more than tripled — to 406,965.

Even when this is accounted for, Nevada’s education spending still shows a dramatic increase:

The final factor to account for the increase is inflation. Even after adjusting for inflation though, Nevada has nearly tripled inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending in the last 50 years.

So has this spending spree produced results? Nope. Combining this NCES data with SAT scores, the Cato Institute found that Nevada’s dramatically increased education spending has produced a negative “return on investment.” As inflated-adjusted, per-pupil spending soared, SAT results were stagnant.

It should be noted that the spending figures above don’t include all the additional billions that Nevada school districts spend on buildings or debt service, such as the $4.9 billion that the Clark County School District spent from its 1998 bond.

So how can Nevada politicians — funded by taxes from Nevada’s big businesses and families alike — dramatically increase education spending for decades, yet be generally ignorant about Nevada’s true levels of education spending?

A recent episode involving Lt. Governor candidate and current state Sen. Mark Hutchison is illuminating.

Hutchison did an editorial-board interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and described how the Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval increased education funding during the 2013 Legislative Session:

During the 2013 legislative session, Hutchison noted, the governor was able to pump another $500 million into education funding, to add $50 million for English language learning. The money also expanded all-day kindergarten.

In response, liberal pundit Jon Ralston lashed out on both his blog and TV show, calling Hutchison’s statements “outlandish claims.” He blogged, “This is utterly misleading. And the RJ either knows or should know this. That figure is a mirage. Nearly $400 million of it was from the cost of additional students, benefit increases and roll-up costs. It is pure propaganda, allowed to stand.”

A review of Nevada’s education budget, however, shows that Nevada’s state education spending through the Distributive School Account will increase from $5,374 per-pupil in Fiscal Year 2013 to $5,676 per-pupil in FY 2015. In addition, state spending on special education and class-size reduction will grow from $263.9 million in FY 2013 to $295 million in FY 2015.

Less than $28 million of Nevada’s increased education spending in FY 2014 and 2015 comes from projected increases in student enrollment at FY 2013 spending levels.

So this is a classic example of how education spending increases — and government spending increases in general — become “devastating cuts.” Education bureaucrats ask for an 8 percent increase in spending, including assumed spending increases like roll-up costs and higher PERS contributions. If taxpayers only give them a 6 percent increase, they complain about 2 percent budget cuts. And their allies in the media echo chamber repeat the cry.

When this narrative occurs, unchecked by reality year after year for decades, as it has in Nevada, the escalating absurdity of it all climaxes in things like the above campaign commercial.

Margin-tax supporters claim Nevada hasn’t tried increasing education spending to increase student achievement, but both federal and state figures show that’s virtually the only thing the state has tried.

In this instance, professed advocates of Nevada education are, once again, spending big bucks to inculcate public ignorance.

It’s thoroughly shameful.

Victor Joecks is executive vice president at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan, free-market think tank. For more visit