Nevada’s unemployment has been the highest in the nation since May 2010, 14.9% at the height to the still overwhelming 12.1% in August of 2012. The Legislature’s role in reversing this is to cultivate a consistent stable environment to give Nevadans the opportunity to start a business or enhance and grow an existing one. Our tax structure should be simple, should reduce revenue volatility and should never be used to deter economic behavior like hiring workers or reaching certain revenue levels. However, growing the economy and creating jobs is not solely about taxes. Businesses are looking at the long-term health of Nevada. We must also improve our education system, take a hard look at projected unfunded liabilities in PERS, reform the construction defect laws by removing pre-litigation fees, and enact ways to prioritize state spending so that businesses will be confident in relocating to Nevada.
The Nevada Legislature made positive strides in 2011 with the passage of legislation that put accountability back in the classroom. The Legislature armed principals with the ability to identify struggling teachers and the ability to reward teachers who are helping students excel. We need to continue to promote legislation that gives parents more choices for their children’s future. Nevada should enact reforms that have worked in states like Florida and cities like New Orleans, post hurricane Katrina. We need to encourage the use of charter schools, end social promotion, create tax credit scholarship programs, create early intervention reading programs, use an alternative teacher certification program to hire a more diverse pool of teachers, and allow parents the ability to move their child to a better school if their school is failing them. Moreover, we need to ensure that the dollars spent on education are going to the classroom by enacting reforms that ensure a certain percentage of education dollars go directly into the classroom.
Tax & Spending Control
Over the last two decades, Nevada’s general fund spending has more than tripled from $1.0 billion in FY 1994 to $3.1 billion for FY 2013. Obviously, the explosion in Nevada’s population and increased demand for public services attributed to spending increases. However, according to an NPRI study, “since the 2003 tax hikes, lawmakers have spent a cumulative $5.5 billion beyond the inflation-adjusted, per capita spending levels that existed in the decade beginning in FY 1994 and ending in FY 2003.” These numbers show us that when times were going well, lawmakers made financial decisions without considering the day when the economy might not be as strong. That day is today. We need to enact reforms that would ensure that government spending does not exceed population growth and inflation.
Additionally, the legislature made positive steps last session by enacting performance-based budgeting. While eliminating wasteful spending is imperative, we should be more focused on making government more efficient so that we can prioritize state programs and ultimately spend less. Agencies should identify their objectives, prioritize those objectives, and then the legislature should evaluate how they can deliver those services in the least costly manner. Furthermore, Nevada should be open to consolidating the legislative and executive auditing offices into a state auditor’s office who is completely independent from any political pressure. The state auditor should then be allowed to carry out performance audits of all Nevada agencies. The state of Washington enacted such a plan and identified hundreds of millions in savings. Nevada should be open to this approach if it would save tax payer dollars.