Week in Review: Sound the alarm

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

Do you remember President Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address when he declared, “The era of big government is over”?

Watching Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State last night made me wonder when Sandoval would declare “The era of big government is here.”

While Sandoval never spoke those words, that was the theme of his speech, which included the following:

  • The largest tax increase in Nevada’s history — $1.15 billion. That would include the creation of a new type of tax: a graduated business license fee. That’s a modified version of the margin tax, which voters just rejected 4 to 1.
  • The governor announced that he wants to make the sunset taxes permanent, even though lawmakers promised voters they would expire in 2011, and then 2013 and then 2015. As a candidate for governor, Sandoval himself promised to let them expire in 2011.
  • Sandoval proposed allowing school districts to raise property taxes to pay for school buildings without voter approval. Sandoval wants to bypass the will of Clark County voters who rejected a related property-tax increase in 2012 by a 2-to-1 margin. Citizens of Washoe County also spoke out in force and caused the Washoe County Commission to reject a similar tax hike in 2013.
  • He gave a laundry list of new education spending, including tens of millions of dollars for failed programs like full-day kindergarten and pre-K.
  • Overall, Sandoval proposed an expansion of general fund spending by 10.6 percent, from $6.6 billion to $7.3 billion.

The speech did include a couple of positive specifics: school choice in the form of opportunity scholarships and what sounded like a recovery school district for failing schools.

While Sandoval did mention things like reforms for collective bargaining, PERS and construction defects, the details he gave paled in comparison to the energy and attention he gave to his proposals to expand government. That set off alarm bells for me, and it should for you as well.

Especially worrisome is Sandoval’s claim that spending will be paired with accountability. While it sounds nice, consider what happens in practice. The Legislature passes a new spending measure. It immediately gains advocates who benefit from the government largesse.

Those advocates turn into a special-interest group dedicated to preserving the program, even when it doesn’t perform as promised. By the time we get to two, four or six years later, when there is ample evidence that the program is obviously not working as promised, a new crop of lawmakers and a new governor are faced with “cutting” a vital program “for the children” that has a special-interest group dedicated to protecting it.
Exhibit A is class-size reduction, a waste of money that only a few brave lawmakers will point out is a waste of money.

Exhibit B is the set of “temporary” sunset taxes, which elected officials promised would expire in 2011. Four years later, Sandoval wants to make them permanent.

That’s why it’s so important for lawmakers to demand and obtain accountability for the money Nevada is already spending. Without doing that, you just end up spending more and more for the same or even declining results.

The true tragedy is that all this new spending won’t help Nevada’s children learn more. We know full-day K and pre-K only produce small and temporary gains. We know that giving more money to school districts without changes to NRS 288 only leads to paying more for the status quo. We know that nearly tripling inflation-adjusted, per-pupil education spending doesn’t increase spending achievement and quadrupling it won’t help, either.

And we know that the largest tax increase in Nevada would cause many parents to lose their jobs, causing untold upheaval for their children and harming their ability to learn.

Sandoval and other politicians know that ushering in the “era of big government” isn’t politically popular. Which candidate ran on growing government and passing the largest tax hike in Nevada’s history?

The good news is that — despite President Obama’s desires — a chief executive is not a dictator. Sandoval’s proposals now go to the Legislature, where they will be challenged and debated.
Sandoval’s speech sounded the alarm. It’s time to answer the call, or more importantly, to make a call. I encourage you to call your legislators and let them know what you think.

Contact information for Assembly members is here and contact information for senators is here.  You can find out who your legislators are here.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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