Greed routinely hurts Nevadans

Here’s data from the year when Nevada was Number 1 in education spending:

Perhaps it’s those 14 years I spent in the Legislature that make me laugh every time I hear a business executive proclaim he will “have a word” with the governor or march up to the Legislature and demand something Nevada no doubt needs, but obviously cannot afford under our current revenue structure.

First case in point: a medical school in Southern Nevada. Cost: $30 million.

At a recent meeting of the Legislative Committee on Health Care, experts provided the newest data on Nevada’s chronic shortage of health care professionals, adding that the problem is bound to get worse as more Nevadans get access to health care under the Affordable Care Act and our existing workforce nears retirement age.

Most of our rankings are at rock bottom, including 51st in the nation for general, orthopedic and specialty surgeons, and 50th in the number of psychiatrists and registered nurses.

A medical school in the region where more than two-thirds of the state’s population lives does seem like an obvious strategy to address the workforce shortage of trained medical professionals, but it’s going to take an investment from the state to make it happen. Where will that money come from?

Another recent news story featured Education Week’s 2014 Quality Counts report, which once again described Nevada as the state where children have the least chance of success, a ranking we’ve held for the last five years.

State Superintendent of Education Dale Erquiaga gave the usual official response, claiming that new data will show dramatic improvements but glossing over the fact that Nevada ranks 49th for school funding, spending $8,500 per student compared to the national average of $11,900.

A third example of severe underfunding of the state budget emerged in a new legislative audit, pointing out the State Fire Marshal Division has not issued required permits for 43 percent of facilities housing hazardous materials in Nevada. The Division may not even know where all the hazardous materials are stored.

Another audit made public in January found the state’s Division of Minerals doesn’t have an inspection process to “ensure oil and geothermal are meeting regulatory requirements.” The 11 employees in the division no doubt do their best to review plans required for drilling permits in the state, but they don’t actually go out and inspect the drill sites. No one really knows whether the operations comply with safety and environmental regulations.

The division also works hard to find and notify owners of abandoned mines in Nevada to remind them to install safety equipment. But when the letters are ignored, nothing further is done.

Think something similar to the chemical spill in West Virginia can’t happen here? Think again.

Despite the acknowledgment by some business titans that these issues and others desperately need more state funding, most ignore the evidence of funding neglect, preferring instead to focus on gearing up to defeat the Education Initiative, a ballot initiative to create the state’s first broad-based business tax. In campaign finance reports filed in mid-January, the coalition to defeat the margin tax posted more than $700,000 in contributions, mostly from the Nevada Resort Association, Retailers Association, Mining Association and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

The sponsor of the measure, the NV State Education Association, raised about $1 million, but advocates expect to be outspent as their opponents prepare a media campaign to persuade voters that Nevada’s economic recovery will disintegrate if the tax is passed.

Few connect the starvation of our basic services in health care, education, and environmental protections to the lack of a broad-based business tax that 47 other states already have. And those leaders who do connect the dots brush off the Education Initiative, saying it’s “not the right tax” and “not the right time.”

It seems it never is.