One-third is the magic fraction
Everyone knows the State of our State is abysmal in terms of education funding and outcomes.
We can thank Mississippi for keeping us out of last place in the newest Education Week study ranking Nevada as the second worst school system in the nation. Nevada also lags far behind the national average in terms of state funding for the mentally ill, children with autism, and every other social services metric.
As Gov. Brian Sandoval expertly managed lead-up press accounts surrounding his biennial address last Thursday, progressives organized their own speech on Tuesday evening in Las Vegas. Former Assemblyman Jason Frierson, narrowly and unexpectedly defeated in his re-election bid last November, headlined the Progressive State of the State before a crowd gathered at the SEIU union hall.
Frierson’s speech focused squarely on the need for financial support for education in Nevada, noting that many of the new legislators are of the mindset that more tax revenue is not the answer to the state’s education woes. Frierson told progressives: “We cannot continue to proclaim that throwing money at the problem isn’t the answer when all we’ve done is continue to cut funding, taking money away from our kids.”
Frierson pointed out that the governor and moderates in the Republican caucuses have finally concluded that more revenue is essential to improving education in Nevada, a welcome change from previous years. He warned against further burdening working families with additional taxes instead of broadening the base by enacting a business tax on large corporations. He used the three-legged stool analogy that many of the studies of Nevada’s tax system have referenced to illustrate that a business tax is necessary to add a more predictable, stable element to a budget primarily funded by volatile sales and gaming taxes.
Frierson outlined other key components of the progressive agenda, including an emphasis on building a living wage for working families, protecting public lands, reforming the criminal justice system, and defeating Voter ID systems that would disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority populations.
A few nights later, in his halting and awkward speaking style punctuated by nervous giggles, Gov. Sandoval provided a broad outline of his Legislative agenda. The speech was remarkable for its reliance on Democratic ideas that have been pilloried by Republicans for years. Although often praised as a straightforward and direct politician, Sandoval left out many an inconvenient fact in his speech.
Sandoval bragged about reducing the number of uninsured in Nevada, but forgot to mention Obamacare provided the opportunity to expand Medicaid to include childless adults as well as the funding to do so. He giddily presented a laundry list of education improvements, including automatic rollover of school construction bonds, expansion of pre-school and full day kindergarten, social workers in schools, and a weighted funding formula without noting these have been issues Democrats have long prioritized while Republicans continually denounced them. He even bragged about his budget proposal to support breakfast in schools, apparently forgetting he vetoed a similar bill just last session.
Sandoval plans to raise about $1.1 billion in revenue by making the “sunset taxes” permanent ($650 million), raising the payroll tax rate on mining to the same rate banks pay ($14.6 million), and increasing business license fees based on gross receipts ($430 million). This approach lets him argue he’s proposing fee increases while avoiding the creation of a real corporate tax.
Sandoval’s plan is far from a done deal, however. Grumbling began immediately from the “no new taxes ever” contingent, about a Republican governor sponsoring the “largest tax increase in the state’s history.”
One need look no further back than 2003 to understand how easy it is to blow up a tax plan. The most important unspoken number associated with the governor’s proposal is one-third.