Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 116 – Governor Gibbons (again)

As 2007 winds down and we enter the presidential election year, it's predictable that a great deal of attention in the media and in our lives will focus first on the nominating process and then on the election. Here in Nevada there will be very little of local interest in this election (although in Incline we will have another IVGID election with three of the five seats up for grabs), and it would be natural to think nothing of state interest is going on. That would be a mistake.


Nevada faces a worst-case revenue shortfall in 2008 of some $440 million. In response to this, Governor Gibbons, who is required constitutionally to balance the budget, first floated what many thought were draconian budget cuts in education and human services, and then after the outcry pared the cuts back to spread the burden over more agencies and to average less than 5% in cuts overall. Sounds good, right? Only by comparison to what was arguably a straw man proposed to make the real plan sound good.

What is obscured by the Governor's usual arrogance and assumption that he is smarter than the electorate is that K-12 public education will have some $95 million in cuts during this two-year budget cycle and that the state university and college system would have its budget reduced by some 32.7 million dollars. The appropriation reduction would require the suspension of searches for 55 faculty and classified positions, reduction of already under-funded operating budgets, elimination of library book acquisitions, elimination of equipment replacement, elimination of applied research initiatives, deference of network upgrades and maintenance, and other actions that University of Nevada Chancellor Jim Rogers has called "devastating."

I don't find it terribly surprising that Gibbons, who seems to revel in his own ignorance, would cut funding for education in our state which consistently ranks near the bottom nationally in quality measures. He has set up his plan in a way that avoids the need for legislative action, caught the Legislature's leadership, particularly Democratic leadership off guard, and can pretty well rely on the national campaigns to distract Nevadans from what he is doing. We should not be distracted.

It is patent insanity to cut education spending in a state that, according to Education Week ranks 43rd nationally in "chances for success" for its children and 44th in K-12 educational performance, and insulting to the intelligence of the electorate to assert, as Gibbons did, that much of the reduction mandates can be met by postponing construction projects.

It's possible that the worst case will not be realized, but the state's estimate of the shortfall has gone up from $286 million to $440 million and assumes that the current slump in key revenue sources, particularly sales taxes, will continue. Given the direction of the national economy under the current administration, that assumption seems likely to be true. I can't think of a stupider response to worsening economic conditions than to cut back on education in a state that is already in a league with some of the most backward parts of the country – Nevada's economic future lies in attracting new businesses and professionals to the state, and one of the key factors in attracting those is the quality of education. If we want to be a backward state known for gambling, prostitution, and recreation rather than being known as a great place to live, Governor Gibbons seems to be taking us in the right direction.

Don't let the national clamor distract you from what this incompetent governor is trying to do in furthering his political ambitions.

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