Think tank offers road map for Nevada lawmakers

Mitch3_1The state of Nevada — for the first time since before the Great Depression — has a Republican governor and Republican majorities in both the Assembly and state Senate, as well as all the statewide elective offices, providing an opportunity to finally attempt to curb the growth of state spending and address much-needed reforms in education, land management, commerce, health care, taxation, debt, labor and public employee pensions.

To achieve these objectives there ought to be a guidebook, something like Newt Gingrich’s “Contract for America” or Paul Ryan’s “A Road Map for America’s Future.”

As luck would have it — actually as good planning would have it, because luck had nothing to do with it — the libertarian-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute this week has published “Solutions 2015: A Sourcebook for Nevada Policymakers,” a 114-page compendium of facts, figures, charts, graphs and recommendations for putting the ship of state on a more even keel. The book’s contents expand upon “Solutions 2013,” also penned by Geoffrey Lawrence, NPRI’s director of research.

Lawrence uses historical Nevada data, as well as hundreds of hours of research into the best practices in other states, to buoy his reasoning for recommendations on more than 50 issues our 2015 Legislature needs to address.

The first rattle out of the “Solutions 2015” box is a call for one of the most significant and fundamental initiatives to curb state spending growth — Tax and Spending Control. TASC would limit real, per capita spending growth to that warranted by population growth and inflation.

This is needed because since 2003 spending outpaced population and inflation by $5 billion more than spending in the previous decade.

TASC was first championed in Nevada a decade ago by then-state Sen. Bob Beers, currently the only announced candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Harry Reid.

As with its 2013 predecessor, “Solutions” is notable less for what it suggests lawmakers do as undo.

For example, the book notes that Nevada has the highest electric power bills in the Intermountain West and its per kilowatt-hour retail electricity cost is 37 percent higher than neighboring Utah’s.

The first recommendation is repeal of the so-called renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires 25 percent of all electricity sold in the state by 2025 to be generated by expensive solar, wind or geothermal facilities. According to “Solutions,” Nevada power bills are expected to rise 6 percent in the next decade due to RPS alone.

Next, repeal the 2013 law that requires the shutting down of all coal-fired power plants and deregulate the monopoly electricity market, which, by the way, the state was planning to do before the Enron market manipulation threw lawmakers into a panic.

Then there is the topic I have been fulminating about for decades, the 1937 prevailing wage law, which requires all public works projects in the state to pay wages based on a flawed survey of construction companies that always comes out to be union scale.

According to Lawrence’s research, this law requires the state, cities, counties, school districts and other government entities to pay 45 percent higher wages than necessary at a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion a year.

But probably the most important recommendations in “Solutions” are found in the section on public education, which recommends real reform and not just more funding. “Nevada has nearly tripled per‐pupil funding, on an
inflation‐adjusted basis, while educational quality has deteriorated,” the book notes. “The U.S. Department of Education reports that, between FY1960 and FY2011, real, per‐pupil funding for ‘current expenditures’ (not accounting for employee benefits, capital outlays and debt repayment) increased from $3,268 to $9,035. Over the same time period, test scores have remained flat while graduation rates have dramatically declined.”

The fundamental solution is competition through choice — private schools, charter schools, education savings accounts, education tax credits and scholarship programs.

In addition there needs to be competition in the classroom, where teachers would be paid based on merit — how much students progress during the school years — and not seniority alone, as is the case now.

Though Nevada has spent $2.5 billion on class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade over the past 25 years, there has been no observable improvement in educational outcomes. In fact, according to reports Lawrence uncovered, Nevada students in classes of less than 15 on average did not score as well in reading and math as students in larger classes. End class-size reduction.

Also, all-day kindergarten and early childhood programs have shown no lasting benefit.

Perhaps this election will have consequences.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.

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