Voters should demand transparency before considering new taxes
This article originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The Clark County Education Association, the state’s most formidable local teacher union, is requesting that voters statewide support two new tax hikes for the purpose of “adequately” funding public education in Nevada.
This latest request for an additional $1.3 billion in annual revenues, via increases to the state’s sales and gaming taxes, takes place against the backdrop of the 2015 Legislature, which levied more than a billion’s worth of new taxes — also for education — through increased payroll rates and the distortive and destructive Commerce Tax.
Surely, the CCEA hopes to capitalize on voter amnesia, as those 2015 tax increases were advertised as a generational investment in Nevada public education.
Never mind that, with average spending of $10,197 per student for the 2019-20 school year, the real problem facing Nevada’s public schools is a lack of institutional accountability, not insufficient funding.
Accordingly, there are at least two reasons why the CCEA will have difficulty in persuading the public of the need for these latest taxpayer-soaking proposals: Past funding increases to the one-size-fits-all public education monopoly have yielded underwhelming results, and teacher unions continue to hide from the public the taxpayer-funded process of collective bargaining which, too often, leads to financial catastrophe for school districts and taxpayers alike.
Regarding the latter, ever since government unions in Nevada were granted bargaining rights, they’ve enjoyed special treatment from our elected officials by not having to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Law. The law declares “that all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business,” and that “it is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly” (NRS 241.010). Yet government-sector collective bargaining remains exempt (NRS 288.220, 288.590) from this tool of public accountability due to the outsized political influence wielded by government unions, who fight mightily, and suspiciously, to keep their affairs hidden from the public.
Unions’ insulation from public scrutiny disregards the evidence that voters have an appetite for reform, according to a soon-to-be-released poll conducted for Nevada Policy by OH Predictive Insights. Even more, Governor Steve Sisolak, while serving on the Clark County Commission in 2011, expressed to the Las Vegas Review-Journal his support for bargaining transparency in the following way:
“The public that is ultimately paying this bill has a right to know what’s being negotiated away or not. I mean how do they know if…the elected leaders are doing a good job if they don’t know what’s being talked about. I think that everybody should be in favor of the transparency.”
Nonetheless, the law continues to defer to organized labor, unfairly. This is particularly galling because, as Governor Sisolak noted, taxpayers are ultimately forced to pay for whatever contractual terms are cemented during the negotiations process. A quick review of NPRI’s Transparent Nevada website, the state’s largest public-pay database, offers a glimpse into some of the excesses which result from these closed-door bargaining sessions.
Despite relatively lavish public-compensation structures — especially compared to private-sector median earnings — we taxpayers are constantly admonished for objecting to proposals meant to boost the “underfunded” public education monopoly. Yet there are numerous examples of other states (e.g., Florida and Arizona) who outperform Nevada in national education rankings while spending considerably less.
The teacher union is asking voters for another $1.3 billion of their tax dollars each year, while simultaneously refusing to allow them to witness the process that determines how and where those tax dollars will be spent. Does that sound like good-faith negotiating to you?