(Nic Dunn) – The education community has made its voice heard — it opposes the budget cuts. Students and other education advocates came together yesterday in Carson City to protest Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed cuts to education. There is no doubt that the cuts will hurt Nevada System of Higher Education campuses.
Opponents of the governor’s budget proposal say we should simply raise taxes to make up for the deficit, or at least reduce its impact on education. After all, shouldn’t we be willing to pay for education?
While the advocacy for education is admirable, those protesting the governor’s cuts are wrong.
Many have suggested instituting a state income tax. That would be a mistake. The fact that Nevada does not have an income tax has been a huge economic incentive for businesses and individuals to come to the state.
An income tax is also a dangerous slippery slope because it would be almost impossible to kill.
The state government loves to spend money. When revenues increase, the state also increases spending.
The fiscal irresponsibility of Nevada’s government is one of the primary reasons we are facing such a dramatic budget deficit today. We have a serious spending problem.
State lawmakers increased taxes in 2003 to offset declining revenues because of the economic downturn.
According to the Nevada Policy Research Institute, these included “creation of the modified business tax, the land transfer tax and the bank branch excise tax; increases in the cigarette tax, the liquor tax, the gaming tax and business license fees.”
The economic situation began to improve by 2005 and the flurry of new taxes brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue. NSHE funding grew by 16 percent, the Millennium Scholarship Fund was expanded and more than $250 million was added to the class-size reduction program.
Now that revenues have decreased, spending from past years can no longer be sustained. We must cut back.
Contrary to what some education advocates want you to believe, the cuts will not result in the “dismantling” of any universities.
Gov. Sandoval’s proposed budget would reduce NSHE’s state funding to 2006 levels.
Our universities were robust and productive in 2006. The idea they would be irreversibly damaged in 2011 using 2006 spending levels is absurd.
Enrollment is higher and it will still be a damaging cut. But the rhetoric from the education community is misleading and has spun out of control.
We can still maintain the effectiveness of the University of Nevada, Reno even with 2006 spending levels.
The key is to know where to cut.
Moderately reducing these and other inflated salaries could create a scholarship fund that would help struggling students.
Increasing taxes would likely have a negative financial impact on the economy and a psychological impact on all Nevadans.
When we hit another recession down the road, we will be in the same position of inflated spending and declining revenues. And the same types of people will be making the same argument to raise taxes to save education.
Could Nevada’s tax system use an update? Of course. Basing our tax revenue on the volatile tourism industry is unwise.
We could expand the base for some taxes while reducing the rate. This would be revenue neutral — thus avoid increasing the burden on struggling Nevadans and increase the stability of the state’s revenue source.
But the core of our problem is spending.
Nevada will always face challenges with funding essentials such as higher education unless our lawmakers learn to control how much they spend.
As cliché as the phrase has become, living within our means is truly applicable here.
(Nic Dunn is a broadcast journalism major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)