Fix the schools, fix the tax structure
It’s difficult to choose the best reason a Washoe County Commissioner might use to rationalize a “no” vote to enact AB 46 from the 2013 Legislative session to provide the Washoe County School District with reliable funding for maintenance and repairs to its 93 schools. There are so many possibilities.
The easiest path for the four Republican Commissioners is to hide behind the “no new taxes ever” mantra of their party’s right-wing radicals, especially since several commissioners are contemplating a run at another office when they’re termed out next year.
Critics sputter about an independent review commissioned by the school district, which outlined a number of needed reforms. These scolds declare the school district should operate like a large business, ignoring the fact that its purpose isn’t to make a profit. Its purpose is to provide quality public education.
Then there’s the real reason we’re in this crisis. Nevada remains one of just three states in the nation that forgoes a tax on corporate profits, thus chronically underfunding education. Surrounding states have corporate tax rates ranging from 8.84 percent in California to 5 percent in Utah. Nevada: 0 percent. Instead, it’s workers and tourists who fund the state budget through sales tax and gaming tax, at woefully low levels.
As if those weren’t enough reasons, there’s the constitutionality question of whether the county commission is empowered to raise taxes for another governing body without any oversight ability.
And did I mention the badly played hand of the Democrats in Carson City who let their Republican colleagues and the governor off the hook by not forcing a vote on the original bill? This strategy allowed Republicans to spout pro-education views while keeping their Tea Party credentials intact.
The county commissioners deserve credit for taking the issue seriously, despite their unsought assignment. They’ve held a series of pubic hearings taking long hours of testimony from constituents and groups opposing or supporting the measure. Thanks to some excellent work by the district, you can view much of this material yourself on a webpage at http://www.washoe.k12.nv.us/community/schoolcapitalneedsinitiative?_lang=en.
The webpage has a direct link to the review produced by the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of school districts based in D.C. You won’t see an indictment of the district’s management but rather a very thoughtful discussion, item by item, with a timeline of implementation or reasons why a specific recommendation is not being implemented.
Then click on the link that takes you to a list of proposed capital renewal projects that’s overwhelming and comforting at the same time. Overwhelming in the vast amount of work that needs to be done to create safe learning environments in our schools, and comforting in that the school district is organized enough to produce such a thorough inventory of detailed projects, school by school.
You’ll want to scroll down to your neighborhood schools and see exactly what the extra $20 million a year will fund. Some of the “expired” items are life/safety needs that clearly can’t be postponed for very long, like the expired fire alarm/security system at Gomes Elementary or the HVAC system in the kindergarten area of Booth Elementary. Roofing, carpet, boilers all need to be replaced. And do we really want to take a chance on the expired electric circuits at Cannan Elementary?
Other items are labeled as “expired but serviceable” at each school. The list continues with items that will need replacement in the years ahead.
The bottom line is the modest increases in the sales tax and the property tax works out to about $8 more a month for the average taxpayer. Before you contact your county commissioner who will be voting on the measure soon, ask yourself if that’s too high a price to pay to make sure children have hot water and heat at your local school.