Testimony on SB 119
SB 119 contains two separate provisions: An excellent repeal of prevailing wage requirements for school and university construction and a massive property tax increase without voter approval.
Repealing prevailing wage requirements would save Nevada governments significantly on construction projects. An NPRI study found that prevailing wage requirements boost the costs of construction project labor by around 45 percent in both Northern and Southern Nevada. Overall, prevailing wage requirements cost Nevada taxpayers around $1 billion in excessive labor costs in just 2009 and 2010.
A study in Michigan found that eliminating prevailing wage requirements there would reduce overall construction costs by 10 percent.
Eliminating the prevailing wage is a great example of how government can make taxpayer money more go further.
On the other hand, attempts to circumvent voters and pass a property tax increase without their approval should be rejected.
First, voters have clearly spoken on this issue. In 2012, Clark County voters rejected a more modest property tax increase 2 to 1, despite there not being a formal “no” campaign. In 2013, Washoe County residents spoke out against a property and sales tax increase for school construction, forcing the County Council to reject those tax increases.
This bill would circumvent the will of the people, because voters overwhelmingly oppose this plan.
Next, here are a few important pieces of context on calls for capital improvements.
1. In 1999, the average US school building was built in 1959, or 40 years old. In 2012, the average CCSD school building was just 22 years old. Nevada’s schools are comparatively new.
2. I have personally called Clark County School District and Washoe County School District officials and asked if their heating and A/C systems are working. Officials from both school districts have reported that while occasional breakdowns happen and are fixed immediately, their students have working heat and A/C, contrary to some claims.
3. With its $4.9 billion 1998 bond, CCSD accommodated a 50 percent increase in student growth. Now CCSD claims it needs $5.3 billion to accommodate just 1 or 2 percent student growth per year.
4. CCSD has also been extremely wasteful with its past bond money. It gave $5 million to the Smith Center for Performing Arts. It gave $2 million to the City of Henderson for a swimming pool.
At the same time, CCSD was bemoaning the need to build new school buildings, it spent the last of its 1998 bond money on a gym for a rural high school.
5. In its 2012 property tax increase request, CCSD said identified 42 schools it would have spent the funds on. Those 42 schools had received more than $470 million from previous bond campaigns, an average of $11.7 million a school.
6. In 2012, CCSD said ten schools desperately needed electrical system upgrades. Those electrical upgrades would have cost just $9.8 million, or 1.5 percent of what CCSD was asking for.
Lastly, the best way to deal with claims of overcrowded schools is to pass school choice legislation that allows parents to choose to remove their students from public schools.