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Makin’ Snausage

Damon Hodge lists top legislative issues

Damon Hodge


Education

Because it's the one issue that, most agree, has the broadest implications for Nevada's future. Because nearly everyone agrees that all-day kindergarten, which operates on the trickle-up theory, is a start to improving schools and all-important test scores. Because we need to pay more to attract and retain quality teachers. Because the behemoth Clark County School District has survived a handful of legislative audits attesting to its thinnish bureaucracy. Because perpetually cynical and unflinchingly stingy lawmakers, like Bob Beers, have yet to offer tangible, no-money-involved solutions to combating truancy and dropout rates and low test scores, and tend to ignore how education affects issues like poverty, crime, violence, drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, runaways, juvenile prostitution. Because it's one thing to throw money at a problem ($140 million of 2003's $833 million tax increase went to education) and quite another thing to throw money at fixing underfunding—a per-pupil spending average $1,500 below the national mean. Because runiversity system Chancellor Jim Rogers is right: You can't expect first-class education with Third World support.


Political strategist Dan Hart: The politics of this is interesting, particularly with regard to full-day kindergarten. [Former Gov. Kenny] Guinn's budget included this for every school. Gibbons is not in support of this, but Assembly Democrats are. How Gibbons manages that fight is going to be fascinating. God knows what he's going to say.


Transportation

Because the Nevada Department of Transportation projects a $3.8 billion deficit, and those monies are central to an $11 billion plan that, through 2015, includes work on 10 major road and highway projects: widening U.S. Highway 95 from Henderson to the far northwest part of the Las Vegas Valley; widening Interstate 15 near Downtown; building new Beltway interchanges at I-15, U.S. 95 and Summerlin Parkway; creating a U.S. Highway 93 bypass around Boulder City. (There are also monies for Northern Nevada projects.) Because Gibbons has summarily dissed most of the revenue-generating recommendations from a task force without offering bona fide alternatives. After meeting for a year, the task force suggested creating toll roads, doubling the driver's license fee to $20, adjusting the gas tax to keep pace with inflation, raising vehicle registration tax from $6 to $25 and reapportioning from the general fund to roadwork repairs the 2 percent tax on vehicle sales. Gibbons favors bonds and public-private partnerships. Because gridlocked streets and highways impact motorist safety, the environment, public quality of life, a business' vitality, etc.


Health Care

Because the Democrats' slew of proposals needs to see the light of floor debate. One proposal would give some small businesses up $100 a month per employee toward health care premiums. Because the federal tort-reform efforts by Republican Nevada Rep. John Ensign are likely to reemerge in Nevada, which went through a nasty medical malpractice fight in 2002-03. Because mentally ill patients still take up too many emergency beds from trauma patients. Because politicians might need to weigh in on labor disputes between unions and health-care providers—sticking points include mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios and a ban on mandatory overtime. Because California is at least exploring a form of universal health care.


Political strategist Terry Murphy: You also have to care for uninsured and underinsured people—that money has to come from somewhere.


Ethics Reform

Because the scandals are becoming legion: G-Sting; the buy-a-judge system exposed by the LA Times; politicians using their offices for personal financial gain (former county recorder Fran Deane and former Sen. Sandra Tiffany); elected officials impeached (deceased state controller Kathy Augustine); Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's every-few-months ethics travails; and so on. Because the state attorney general's Public Integrity Unit could use more tools to weed out graft. Because we're tired of the numerous abstentions, particularly on important issues. Because the Nevada Center for Public Ethics has 11—count 'em, 11—proposals that won't just reform the system but could make it onerous to be a politician. They include making limited liability corporations list partners, allowing counties to have more restrictive ethics laws and requiring monthly reporting of gifts and financial disclosures. Because political offices, particularly at the municipal level, don't pay that much and aren't full-time positions, which increases the propensity for back-room deals.


Assemblyman Joe Hardy: The need to address ethics does not really stem from our constituencies. We already know there's a problem; we don't live in a vacuum. Everyone you talk to [in the Legislature] is frustrated, disgusted. But the challenge is, what can we do that works? Yes, I'd like to do something that works, something that's practical, but we don't need to ruin the process to weed out a few bad ones.


Gibbons' Transition

Because the new governor has shown that he's not above thumb-in-your-eye symbolism. The effect of creating an ever-growing transition team and replacing last-minute Guinn appointees, at this point, shows Gibbons will do anything to erase his predecessor's stamp from the office.


Political pundit Jon Ralston: What's most interesting about this session is that the new governor talked so little about any issues during his campaign. He is a blank slate. He will propose some different educational approaches that will be controversial, I understand. And the battle over all-day kindergarten will be fascinating because of Buckley's power. I also think he will talk about water and propose a study of the state's resources to head off controversy about the rural water grab. But the real, overarching issue is how much Gibbons, who has never had an executive post, can navigate the legislative waters. He has very few relationships and very few people around him who do. How will he and Buckley interact? It's all sweetness and light now but won't be later. And will Dina Titus be a factor or just annoying static? And how will Bill Raggio play it—as the shadow governor or the guy who has to rein in the new guy?


Taxes

Because it's the lumbering elephant in the china shop: One wrong move and everything could crash.

Hart: There's not much appetite for taxes on either side of the aisle. It's one thing to sit there and say, we need more money, but there are political realities. Yes, we are a growing state with a lot of problems, and money helps solve those problems. But we're running a surplus that's the result of a tax package pushed by a Republican governor. [In such a climate] political reality is that politicians won't push for new taxes. There will always be needs that could be met to a better degree. But you have to battle the perception of people, who might say, "We're paying taxes and the state is running a surplus?"


These are just some of the many issues the gov and Gang will decide on. Similarly important, Buckley says, will be legislation regarding alternative energy and public safety. Mentioned by others as priorities are prison construction, consumer protection, harnessing renewable energy and resolving conflicts over Nevada's water use.

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