Maybe it’ll be different this year
It’s often said a budget reflects the true priorities of an organization, separating rhetoric from reality.
Assuming the “sunset taxes” don’t sunset, the budget gimmicks are enough to keep the state solvent, and by some miracle the Legislature and Gov. Sandoval produce revenue to feed a sadly starved state budget, what should we prioritize for additional spending in the next biennium?
It’s a given that Nevada needs to improve our education system, as our low rankings in just about every indicator can’t all be explained by the right wing’s mantra of bad teachers, overpaid administrators and mismanaged school boards.
The funding needs for K-12 are overwhelming. Infrastructure must be improved to accommodate an expanding enrollment and old schools must be brought up to modern safety and technology standards. Teachers need to be trained on the new academic standards, and we need more school counselors and nurses to address the myriad of serious issues children bring to school, not to mention higher salaries to attract better teachers.
Other education priorities suggested by a panel of leaders featured on public television in Las Vegas recently include expanding full-day kindergarten to every elementary school, incentives for high-quality teachers to choose to work in high-poverty schools, better computer science and technology classes, and an overhaul of the Nevada Plan, the funding formula that’s been in place for 50 years. Many legislators also campaigned on increased funding for English language learners, special education and low-income students.
But will the Legislature put its money where its mouth is, or will we limp along as usual, in last place, while the gap between Nevada and even an average state continues to widen?
More than 500 Nevada children with autism currently languish on a waiting list for the early intervention therapy their parents believe will enable them to live a more fulfilling life. Applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA) has led to impressive gains for many children lucky enough to get it, but funding for Nevada’s Autistic Treatment Assistance Program (ATAP) always runs out before the names on the waiting list do.
Around $31 million has been requested for the next biennium to reach these children waiting for services that need to be provided in their early years to be most effective. Will we ignore them?
After last year’s scandal of busing mentally ill patients out of state, Gov. Sandoval vowed to overhaul Nevada’s chronically underfunded mental health system, pushing for reforms advocates have pestered the Legislature for time and time again. Some of the money cut during the recession has been replaced, and seems to be helping, such as dramatically increasing the daily reimbursement rate for private psychiatric beds. But much more is needed to get Nevada out of the bottom five states for mental health treatment.
Nevada’s roads also need attention to the tune of at least $661 million in repairs. The state Transportation Department classifies these roads as “mediocre” to “very poor,” harsh adjectives that could be used to describe other parts of Nevada’s service infrastructure as well. Compounding the problem is decreasing gas tax revenue due to the development of more fuel-efficient cars, creating an ever-increasing gap between needs and resources, a trend that’s bound to escalate.
Then there are state workers still on furloughs imposed during the recession, whose wages fall further behind every year. Legislators serving on money committees will hear a litany of deferred needs as they begin poring over the budget.
If history guides us, we’ll most likely pretend these budget challenges don’t exist and just patch a budget together to pretend we’re doing fine while big mining and big business continue to profit from our colony-like mentality.
Maybe it’ll be different this year, but I wouldn’t count on it.