Nevada’s Legislature isn’t a body that typically engenders hope, but Majority Leader Paul Anderson told KNPR’s State of Nevada the people will be proud of the work lawmakers do in Carson City this year.
Anderson also agrees that ultimately the state does not have enough money to pay for all of its services.
The session starts February 2 with the Republican Party at the helm for the first time in years.
One of the biggest issues lawmakers will have to face is fixing the education system. Gov. Brian Sandoval has said that education is a top priority for his administration.
Anderson said targeted funding will be key to the education effort. He said that a form of school vouchers will be part of the GOP agenda along with charter school expansion and more school choice.
Not everyone agrees with that agenda. Gary Peck with the Nevada State Education Association said while there is a lot of common ground between public education advocates and lawmakers, school vouchers is not one of them.
“School vouchers siphon badly needed resources away from the K-12 system and put them in places that are not going to broadly serve the general public,” Peck said.
Peck believes the real solution is to fix the state’s revenue structure and adequately fund the K-12 education.
Yvette Williams with the Clark County Black Caucus agrees. She said the public school system has failed black students.
She said there is a connection between education and economics that needs to be addressed. She thinks one of the best ways is to implement early assessment of children.
“We need to make sure that children are assessed early, so we can identify what their education should be,” Williams said.
Political analyst and columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal Steve Sebelius said that expanding charter schools and school choice doesn’t solve the big problem in the system for everyone.
“School choice is a work around. The school system has failed all kinds of students. It has got to be fixed. It has been neglected for years,” Sebelius said.
Sebilius said the realty is schools with more English language learners or more kids on free and reduced lunches need more money than schools that don’t face those challenges.
Despite the good intentions expressed by lawmakers, Sebelius is not optimistic about big changes coming from Carson City this legislature.
“I have seen ideas proposed and fail. My fear is that we’re going to see it again,” Sebelius said,
“We have to settle for incremental changes and we’ve seen where that gets us.”
Another big topic that could get a lot of discussion but not a lot of changes is tax reform.
Several lawmakers, including Speaker-Elect John Hambrick have signed a no-new-taxes pledge. Anderson said that is like a jury deciding a person’s guilt or innocence before looking at the evidence.
He believes that state is running very lean, but overall it needs more money.
“The majority of the budget goes to Health and Human Services and Education and both have a lot of needs across the board,” Anderson said.
He believes there are ways to close loopholes without raising taxes.
Sebelius said simple math shows just how much trouble the state’s budget is in.
“The plain reality is the state does need more money. The Economic Forum has projected less revenue than the current state budget,” Sebelius said.
He said the lawmakers must extend taxes that are set to expire just to keep treading water, but paying for expanded services will require revenue re-structuring.
“People pay one way or another,” Sebelius said, “When you pay through taxes, there is a return. When you don’t, you’ll feel consequences.”
He pointed to the state’s low graduation rate and poor standardized test scores along with problems with the mental health care system as consequences of under-funding those programs.
Anderson believes there needs to be a balanced approach to any changes to how and where the state gets its revenue.
Paul Anderson, assemblyman, District 13
Steve Sebelius, political analyst and columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Yvette Williams, Clark County Black Caucus
Gary Peck, executive director, Nevada State Education Association