Three cuts to the budget

The Nevada Legislature, in its 10th week, is still struggling with the tax package, a struggle mostly between Republican factions. The Democrats seem ready to vote for any tax package, oblivious to whether it represents greater or lesser tax fairness in this state where the working poor already carry such a heavy burden.

We believe there are three steps legislators can take to simplify their choices.

First, kill all-day kindergarten.

We understand that teachers want to expand job opportunities. But this proposal is a throwback to the 1980s, the greed decade when Let’s-Be-Like-Japan was all the rage and training schoolchildren to be workaholics was chic.

Small children should be eased into the world of school and of separation from home. So many of the reasons for all day kindergarten rely on the needs of the adult world: Half-day kindergarten is a mismatch with Common Core standards, all-day boosts student achievement, it produces returns on investment (at a Nevada cost of at least $150 million annually). Those are in the interest of adult society. But they steal childhood from children. Yes, studies show children make the transition, but they shouldn’t have to.

“This is a simple step we can take as we move toward implementing a comprehensive early education program,” according to the National Education Association, a teachers group. But that presupposes an early education program is a good idea.

Second, kill the second Nevada medical school.

Nevada has fewer than 3 million people, most of them hard pressed by a tax system that screws most of them. The state has provided a medical school, located in Reno. The notion that this state can afford two medical schools—one north, one south—is sanity-challenged. The existing school is not called the UNR Medical School. It’s the Nevada School of Medicine. Its annual budget is $270 million. It’s in Reno not for any good reason but because billionaire Howard Hughes offered money for it at a key moment, when Reno had muscle in the Legislature. Political scientists like Eleanore Bushnell warned that allowing Hughes to interfere in the political process would cause problems, but no one listened to those ivory tower folks.

Other than regional pride, there is no sensible reason for a second medical school, nor can taxpayers afford one. Those pushing the idea aren’t the ones who would bear the burden of paying for it. Medical schools are incredibly expensive. The first Nevada medical school forced the repeal of a long-time state law capping all state salaries.

Third, get rid of public information officers. Legislative budgeters will find salary savings are substantial.

Public information officers were created to put reporters in touch with those in the bureaucracy who have the information needed and then step aside. But over the years, their role has evolved. PIOs now shield officials and agencies from scrutiny and often serve as spokespeople themselves instead of the actual experts.

“But over the past 20 years, government leaders have been using [PIOs] to monitor employee communication with the press,” the Columbia Journalism Review recently reported of federal PIOs, quoting reporter Kathryn Foxhall: “It is massive, pernicious censorship that is now a cultural norm. It’s people in power stopping the flow of information to the public according to their own ideas and desires.”

PIOs should be cut at all government levels, but let’s start with the state. It’s time for state agency directors and Supreme Court justices to start speaking for themselves again instead of hiding behind flacks.