Time to turn up heat on Nevada budget debate

Nevada Legislature—the Reality TV show of the Biennium! Watch it http://here.

During a Feb. 16 joint education committee meeting in Carson City, Nevada lawmakers politely listened to a brief explanation of why the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, might declare bankruptcy—academic martial law.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts would require UNLV administrators to close colleges or departments and fire scads of professors. Declaring “exigency” makes the school “a police state” with a legal right to slash and burn.

Chancellor Dan Klaich joked darkly about the outcome of such a move.

“Exigency is the Sasquatch of NSHE,” he said, smiling. “We’ve talked about it a lot, but no one’s ever seen one.”

Chuckles all around.

Nevada politics. So civil. So careful. My colleague observed a passive-aggressive vibe on the part of lawmakers, lobbyists and media during the State of the State in Carson City last month. I’ve noticed it since. No one wants to piss anyone off openly. We’re all in this together. Reasonable thinking humans who care about Nevada’s future. Partners in sacrifice!

UNLV graduate student Kyle George described to the committee efforts to establish a food bank for homeless, hungry UNLV students. Yes, students are living in cars in Vegas. George didn’t get emotional as he described a parent opening a bag of donated diapers, taking out a handful and leaving the rest for another parent in need. George was reasonable, armed with numbers. It costs more to incarcerate than to educate. Supporting education is not an expense, it’s an investment. So logical.

When Sen. Barbara Cegavske, a Clark County Republican, chastised NSHE for its graduation rate—which she misrepresented—and for not making the best use of its buildings, Klaich calmly expressed respect for her opinions.

Snow fell outside the building in Carson City. Committee Chair Moises “Mo” Denis, D-Clark Co., asked aides to turn up the heat. He kidded about the temperature in the room being the same as the temperature outside. More chuckles.

As Nevada’s schools and public services face bloody amputations, I’m not convinced the best strategy is to remain calm and “build trust” (Klaich’s words) with lawmakers who hold our fragile future in their clammy palms. Perhaps it would be useful to turn up the heat for lawmakers who refuse to consider raising revenue.

A poll in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Feb. 16 showed more Nevadans (52 percent) support raising taxes than making cuts (37 percent). Surely Nevadans will be heard. And if we lose this little battle with Nevada’s fanatical no-new-revenue crowd, what’s at stake?

Pretty much everything, argued George, who heads an alliance of 115,000 Nevada college and university students—a potentially powerful lobby.

On the same day, things were getting toasty thousands of miles away in Wisconsin’s capitol. Schools in Madison, Wis., closed due to a “blue flu” outbreak. Protesters camped on the capitol’s lawn to greet lawmakers in the morning. Thousands marched, chanting things like “No more cuts.” Signs likened Wisconsin’s new governor (in office for six weeks) to a dictator.

That’s not nice. Neither is Wisconsin’s budget, facing a $3.6 billion gap over the next two years, or their governor, who wants to reduce public worker benefits and clip the wings of labor unions by limiting collective bargaining rights. His plan provoked widespread ire and activism.

Video of protesters filling the halls of another state’s capitol inspired a tinge of envy.

In Carson, George got worked up, finally, toward the end of his presentation.

“We’ve cut and cut and cut, and we keep saying we’re not going to do anything to increase revenues,” he said. “Soon there won’t be anything left to cut, and at that point, you’ll be forced to raise revenues. But where will the state be then?”