(Jim Clark) – Nevada’s two gubernatorial candidates, Brian Sandoval (R – Reno) and Rory who-doesn’t-want-his-last-name-used (D – Las Vegas), continue to campaign throughout Nevada, each promising not to raise taxes despite a reported $3 billion shortfall in the next biennial budget. How can they be so tranquil about a $3 billion budget hole? It’s all in how the game is played.
The $3 billion figure came from Nevada Budget Director, Andrew Clinger. It was arrived at by a mysterious process that assumes “normal raises and bonuses” will be approved for state employees and that the “temporary” tax increase approved by the 2009 legislature would end. Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) did its own review and concluded that Clinger’s estimate is valid only if you assume $1.5 billion in new spending and non-renewal of the 2009 tax increases. Just after NPRI published its study Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, speaking in Stateline, Nevada, confessed that the shortfall is really $1.5 billion.
The truth is that no one really knows what, if any, the budget shortfall will be. In 1991 the legislature forecast some rosy revenue scenarios and increased spending 30% only to come to a screeching halt when revenues did not materialize. In 1993 they “depoliticized” the budget process by creating an economic forum consisting of 5 economics and tax experts from private industry who are required by December 1 of each even numbered year to make a forecast of state revenues. That figure must be used by the legislature and, of course, we won’t know what it is for another couple of months.
So all of Nevada must bask in uncertainty until the 5 wise men (& women?) meet. However there are still fiscal restraint concepts that either or both gubernatorial candidates could propose. Whatever the new revenue figure turns out to be we know that about half of it will be spent on K-12 education. Both candidates promise voters that education will not suffer but offer no details. Here’s an idea: on line classes in virtual schools.
About one quarter of our real property taxes go to pay for public school operating costs. About another 10% goes to pay off school bonds issued to build and repair school facilities. Twelve virtual schools are currently operating in Nevada, some run by school districts (such as the Washoe County “WOLF” program) while a majority are charter schools. They can function at only a fraction of the costs of the brick and mortar county schools and have the flexibility to deliver educational services to English learners, disabled kids, extremely bright kids, students who must hold down a job, advance placement courses in rural areas, home-schooled students and so on. The list is limitless and each student can learn at his/her own pace.
The concept has been around for a while. In 1972 I studied for the bar examination by listening to taped lectures. Today presentations can be live and in color. In Utah nearly one third of students took at least one on-line course and in Florida 84,000 students were educated on line last year.
If technology can really whack down education spending yet deliver superior educational services why aren’t both governor wannabes promoting this? In a word: teacher unions. The National Education Association began suing virtual schools in 2003 in various states but they have been losing these battles one by one so the time to expand these systems in Nevada may already be here.
It would help if we could elect a governor and legislature who could see the enormous possibilities.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)