NPRI’s Second Annual ‘Overlooked Awards’

D. Muska

Later this month Project Censored, a left-wing media group, will reveal the ten stories it believes were "censored" by the nation’s mainstream press in 1998. The Nevada Policy Research Institute offered its first list of the stories the Silver State’s media ignore last year. Herewith, NPRI’s Second Annual Overlooked Awards. The following are not censored stories but rather topics which got little (or flawed) press coverage in 1998, due to reporters’ laziness and/or lack of understanding—not to mention the well-funded snow jobs often orchestrated by special interests in Nevada.

Nevadans’ Real Tax Burden

Long viewed as a "tax heaven," Nevada actually imposes a heavy tax obligation on its citizens. At the state and local level, Nevadans bear the sixth highest per capita tax burden in the nation. In recent years state insurance, gas and cigarette taxes have soared. Since the 1980s, the cost of registering an automobile has risen 310 percent, and the driver’s license fee has increased 250 percent. Despite the overwhelming evidence that Nevada is a high-tax state, many reporters continue to repeat the myth that it is not.

The Anti-Reform Education Behemoth

While states around the nation (particularly nearby Arizona) adopt meaningful reforms of their education systems, the Silver State remains mired in the reform basement. One of the biggest reasons for the dismal state of education in Nevada is the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) teacher union. The well-funded, politically unstoppable union opposes all meaningful reforms—including unrestrained charter schools, public choice, vouchers and merit pay for teachers. Reporters typically transmit the NSEA’s feel-good strategies—such as Nevada’s ineffective (and expensive) class size reduction program—with little or no criticism.

The Ongoing Federal Land Grab

The federal government continues to take possession of more and more of Nevada’s land. "In 1964 the federal government owned about 84 percent of Nevada," writes Elko rancher Demar Dahl. "Now they have almost 90 percent, and at the present rate will own about 97 percent by 2050." The expansion of direct federal control over Nevada’s land is indeed newsworthy, in light of Washington land use bureaucrats’ growing acceptance of radical environmental rhetoric. But it rarely receives coverage by Nevada’s reporters.

Troubling Voting Irregularities

In a preliminary analysis of 1998 voter records, the Nevada Policy Research Institute found suspicious registration and voting activity. For example, 27 voters in Clark County cast their ballots by both early voting and mail. In addition, the registration lists of Nevada’s two most populous counties show over 700 duplicate records for the same citizens. NPRI continues to investigate these troubling findings, but Silver State reporters have been slow to pick up on voting irregularities in the ’98 election.

Yucca: The Privatization Alternative

A consortium of private utilities has contracted with an Indian tribe in Utah for a temporary nuclear waste storage facility. The Goshute Indians have joined forces with Private Fuels Storage, a group of utilities with rapidly dwindling on-site storage capacity for their nuclear waste. If approved by federal regulators, the tribe would host a facility to store waste until a long-term solution is reached. The prospect of such a facility is intriguing—it could open the door to privatization of the entire waste problem, bringing an end to the failed, government-dominated process currently in place (and possibly eliminating Nevada as a location for the nation’s radioactive waste). Yet this possibility never seems to be raised in coverage of the Yucca Mountain Project.

Union Brutality

Unions continue to use thuggish tactics to organize workers in the Silver State, from intimidation of casino employees to illegal protests at jobsites with non-union contractors. With so many examples available, it is puzzling why Nevada’s press rarely details the brutal ways union bosses attempt to exert their will over Silver State employers and employees.

The Perils of Planning

Many in Nevada have embraced Portland-style, command-and-control urban planning as a means to control and manage the state’s population growth. Yet Nevada’s press has spent little time questioning the value of this approach, and has not covered the massive—and costly—failures of urban planners in other cities. Joel Garreau, a Washington Post reporter, has documented the arrogance of planners, who believe people can be made to embrace public transportation and high-density housing. "Despite planners’ pretensions of ‘expertise,’ they cling to outdated models of how cities work," writes the Thoreau Institute’s Randal O’Toole. The influence of these social engineers should be of concern to any Nevadan interested in preserving the state’s quality of life. It should be of concern to reporters as well.

The Arrogant Aristocracy

Nevada’s public employees earn significantly more than workers in the private sector. Generous vacation time and job security are additional perks. Retired Nevada workers do not participate in Social Security—they enjoy a private pension program which writes checks several times the value of a typical monthly benefit from the federal government. And in 1999, government workers comprise fully a third of Nevada’s Legislature. "Accordingly," writes NPRI senior research fellow Ralph Heller, "it comes as little surprise that teachers, police officers and other public employees enjoy influence in Carson City that mere taxpayers can only dream of." Yet serious analysis of the role of public employees in Nevada is rare.

The PETA Principle

Nevada has become infested with animal rights activists. From objections to the "running of the bulls" in Mesquite to protests over the killing of three cougars in Verdi last year, it is clear that many Nevadans embrace the worldview that places the rights of animals side-by-side with those of man. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has about 3,500 members in the state, and the Humane Society—whose rhetoric is now virtually indistinguishable from PETA’s—has over 24,000 members. Reporters seem unwilling to document the progress of the animal rights agenda in Nevada.

Hoover Dam: At Risk

Seventy-four percent of Americans believe that the United States is able to defend itself against a ballistic missile attack. But last July a bipartisan commission revealed that this is not the case. The Claremont Institute has concluded that Hoover Dam is one of the five key strategic targets on the west coast of the United States. Several months ago the Nevada Policy Research Institute conducted conferences in Las Vegas and Reno on the need for a system to defend Nevada and the nation from ballistic missiles, but only a few reporters covered the events.

D. Dowd Muska is a contributing editor for Nevada Journal, the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s monthly magazine. He can be contacted at