A good legislative session ends with a few whiners on either side of the aisle.
Nevada Democrats seem to have accomplished that in their return to power after a long absence. But in Nevada, a good legislative session also leaves some satisfaction in both the north and south. We haven’t seen many smiles in rural Nevada since the session slammed to a close this week.
In particular, public school funding was steered to boost Clark County while rural districts could see their budgets frozen for years. And while higher education saw a statewide hike of more than 10 percent, it appears that Great Basin College will suffer more cuts as it strives to serve the geographical bulk of the state.
After months of mostly twiddling their thumbs, lawmakers came out with budget plans so late in the session that few people had a chance to understand what was being proposed, let alone make meaningful suggestions for changes.
In altering an outdated school-funding formula the main thrust seems to have been to push rural counties toward using their mining tax revenue for education expenses. That’s a fair proposition unless you happen to live in Elko County. As former city councilman John Patrick Rice wrote in a commentary published by the Free Press this week, some rural counties are swimming in budget surpluses because of high “royalties” from mines.
Elko is not one of those counties. Relatively few mines are located here, while a majority of the region’s miners live here. That means Elko County has higher infrastructure expenses than neighbors Eureka and Lander counties, while raking in less mining tax revenue.
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Days after its passage, the potential impact of the new K-12 funding formula remained unclear.
“At this time there are still many uncertainties,” Elko County Schools Superintendent Todd Pehrson told the Free Press on Thursday. “The Governor has yet to sign the bill and we do not have any hard numbers to project our budget.”
A last-minute change in the law gave the governor more discretion in allocating school funds, and not all negative sentiment was coming from the north. Even though Clark County will see more money there was mixed reaction to lawmakers “allowing” them to raise sales tax for additional education expenses, according to The Nevada Independent.
Another issue dear to the hearts of rural voters is gun control. Passage of a few “feel good,” mostly unenforceable laws pleased liberal voters but irked some conservatives enough to form a recall drive against Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Second Amendment supporters are correct that loss of gun rights is something that happens incrementally, and what sounds like a good idea leads to conclusions such as “outlaw bump stocks and only outlaws will have bump stocks.” But the new law on background checks is virtually identical to one previously approved (narrowly) by voters statewide but never enacted. And the “red flag” temporary surrender of firearms law is not a big leap from existing laws that prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun, or spouses obtaining temporary protective orders.
One of the biggest impacts to be felt in coming years may have nothing to do with these hot-button issues. Democrats were successful in passing a prevailing wage law that could add more than 30 percent to the cost of many local public works projects. Elko Mayor Reece Keener says that will mean fewer dollars available to cover needed maintenance and improvements.
The session wasn’t all bad news. It was good to see lawmakers create a Division of Outdoor Recreation, and for the governor to sign Assemblyman John Ellison’s bill addressing the increase in suicides among Nevada’s youth. The Nevada Press Association also scored a big win with its legislation putting teeth into Nevada’s public records law. Public officials who willfully withhold records could end up paying big fines under the legislation. That “has the potential to change the culture of Nevada agencies that prefer secrecy to openness,” said NPA President Glenn Cook, the executive editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
All three of those measures are important to rural Nevada and all three saw broad, bipartisan support.