Category Archives: Nevada legislature

Silver Bullets and Straw Man Arguments: Gun Legislation in Nevada (Updated)

OK Corral Here we go again.  Another spate of gun violence yields another editorial assault on common sense gun regulation from conservative sources, this time the editors of the Las Vegas Review Journal.  The title says it all, “Expanded gun background checks not a cure all.”  There are at least a couple of things wrong with this argument.  First, it’s a straw man argument. No one is claiming that universal background checks will cure the American violence problem.  The claim is that closing the gun-show loophole and requiring background checks for sales to non-family members will reduce the probability of gun violence.  Secondly, as the editorial itself acknowledges, background checks can prevent gun sales to domestic abusers.

Even this legislation, SB 175, didn’t really go far enough, and in some respects represents a step backward in terms of controlling access to firearms.  Those guilty of domestic violence, who are subject to an extended order of protection, are forbidden from purchasing or otherwise acquiring a firearm during the period the order of protection is in effect. To get this small attempt at controlling firearm access by domestic abusers, meant the NRA won state control of all gun related issues, county concealed carry permits in Clark County went by the wayside, and expanded language was added to liability in instances in which a “reasonable person might be afraid” for his or her life.

The second logical issue with the editorial is good old fashioned circular reasoning.  The authors logic appears to be that (1) effective background checks require efficient offender databases; (2) Nevada has an inefficient offender data base system; therefore (3) Nevada cannot have effective background checks.  This logic works IF one is prepared to skip blithely over the question of how to make the Nevada offender data base more efficient – and is perilously close to the old Undistributed Middle.

And then comes the perfectly predictable: “Regardless, as has been shown countless times, criminals are not going to follow any gun control law.”  So, if we extrapolate this to its obvious, and much referenced conclusion, there is no reason to enact sanctions against bank robbery and bear baiting because criminals are not going to follow the law?

Now back to the Domestic Violence issue.  What was gained by victims of domestic abuse in SB 175? Answer: Precious Little. [DB April 2015]  Under Section 5 of the bill a domestic abuser (the Adverse Party) was forbidden to purchase firearms for the duration of an extended order of protection.  Please recall that Nevada has two types of restraining orders, temporary and extended, and it can take up to 45 days to get an extended order. [NRS 33.031]   Meanwhile, the statistics are available for the period from April to June 2015. (pdf)

Between April and June 2015, there were 16,245 “contacts” made by authorities concerning domestic violence, and 10,637 were “first time,” another 3,537 were “repeats,” and there were 2,071 “follow up contacts.” Of the 10,637 victims 9,938 were women (93.4%), 699 were men (4.27%).  The age of the victim was not reported in 4,316 instances.  There were 1,479 female victims between the ages of 18-29; 2,577 female victims between the ages of 30-44; and, 1,193 female victims between the ages of 45-64.  Arrests were made in 1,490 cases, no arrest was made in 1,648 cases, and 135 cases are pending.  During the period between April and June 2015 there were 3,327 temporary orders of protection prepared.  2,402 temporary orders of protection/restraining orders were provided.

Assuming that law enforcement and the judicial system were functioning effectively, we had 2,402 cases in a three month period in which it was determined that the victim – most likely a woman – was deserving of a temporary order of protection.  However, the “adverse party” would be free to retain possession of firearms during the length of the temporary order, and for 45 days until an extended order of protection could be issued.

These numbers take on some urgency when put in the context of domestic violence in Nevada.  Back in 2012 25 of the 84 homicides within Las Vegas police jurisdiction were related to domestic violence, the numbers were worse in 2013 when 33 of 105 homicides were related to domestic disputes. [LVRJ]

More alarming still, the national report published by USA Today, on mass killings and family problems.  We have a “mass killing” about every two weeks (since 2006);  the FBI counted 172 between 2006 and 2011.  These numbers may be an undercount because of erroneous and excluded cases, leaving the FBI with a 57% accuracy rate.  And here comes the disturbing part:  Of those mass killings, in 53% the victims were family members. (Other 21%, Public 15%, Robbery/Burglary related 11%) A break up of some kind is the tipping point in 1 out of every 4 mass killings that aren’t connected to strangers, gang violence, or a robbery gone wrong. One in four victims were close family members, children, siblings, spouses, etc. In 77% of the mass killings the weapon used was a gun.  One-third of the victims were under the age of 18; and, 75% of the guns involved were handguns.

The USA Today report drilled down further: semi-automatic hand guns were involved in 49.6% of the shootings; handgun/revolver in 22.4%; and automatic pistols in 0.9%.  Single shot rifles were used in 9.5%; semi-automatic rifles in 8.6%; and automatic rifles in 0.4% of the cases. A shotgun was used in 8.6% of the deadly events.  One third of the perpetrators will be dead at the scene.

It’s certainly true, a domestic abuser will resort to whatever weapon may be at hand from guns to kitchen knives to baseball bats and to manual strangulation… however, as these statistics suggest the outcome is more likely to be deadly if a firearm is involved.

So, should the “little woman” be armed, does the gun in the home constitute an “equalizer?” The answer is no.

“A recent meta-analysis concluded what many people already knew: the availability of firearms is a strong risk factor for both homicide and suicide. But the study came to another conclusion that is rarely mentioned in the gun control debate: females are uniquely impacted by the availability of a firearm. Indeed, the study found that women with access to firearms become homicide victims at significantly higher rates than men.

It has long been recognized that higher rates of gun availability correlate with higher rates of female homicide. Women in the United States account for 84 percent of all female firearm victims in the developed world, even though they make up only a third of the developed world’s female population. And within American borders, women die at higher rates from suicide, homicide, and accidental firearm deaths in states where guns are more widely available This is true even after controlling for factors such as urbanization, alcohol use, education, poverty, and divorce rates.” [LATimes]

In another study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers interviewed 417 women across 67 battered women’s shelters. Nearly a third of these women had lived in a household with a firearm. In two-thirds of the homes, their intimate partners had used the gun against them, usually threatening to kill (71.4 percent) them. A very small percentage of these women (7 percent) had used a gun successfully in self-defense, and primarily just to scare the attacking male partner away. Indeed, gun threats in the home against women by their intimate partners appear to be more common across the United States than self-defense uses of guns by women. [LATimes]

Another large case-control study compared women who were murdered by their intimate partner with a control group of battered women. Only 16 percent of the women who had been abused, but not murdered, had guns in their homes, whereas 51 percent of the murder victims did. In fact, not a single study to date has shown that the risk of any crime including burglary, robbery, home invasion, or spousal abuse against a female is decreased through gun ownership. Though there are examples of women using a gun to defend themselves, they are few and far between, and not statistically significant. [LATimes]

Thus much for the advocacy of yet more guns, and yet more permits to be able to conceal those guns?  And yet more reason to take note of the statistics on domestic violence, the presence of guns in unstable households, and the need to remove firearms from volatile domestic situations.

Questions Remain

  • When do the NRA talking points asserting there is no magic single solution to gun violence become stale and hackneyed?  When does the public come to understand that this is a straw man argument which does little good for the safety of the state and the families residing in this state?
  • When does the profoundly illogical argument that because something might be difficult, or even require more effort, that the desired outcome (less gun violence) is therefore impossible, become a clear example of circular reasoning and unfounded assertion?
  • When do we act on the statistics which strongly suggest that the presence of a firearm in a home increases the probability of lethal domestic violence and suicide? Not to mention tragic incidents involving children.
  • When do we take into consideration the fact that there are some 45 days under Nevada law during which a domestic abuser is free to retain firearms, indeed, free to obtain more “firepower” during that period?
  • What additional arguments must be made before those who advocate for zero restrictions on firearm ownership/possession understand that in a civilized society the temporary removal of firearms from a volatile domestic situation doesn’t mean there is a violation of a Constitutional right?

Update: The Violence Policy Center released its national report today. Nevada is 5th in the nation in female homicide rate.

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Filed under domestic abuse, Gun Issues, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Women's Issues

100 Days, ESAs and Sectarian Education in Nevada

Sectarianism There was this announcement from the State Treasurer’s Office this past August regarding the eligibility of homeschooled students to qualify for the school voucher (ESA).

“The Treasurer’s Office has been notified by the Nevada Department of Education that pursuant to NRS 388.850, a private school or “home school” student may not participate in a program of distance education (online class) to satisfy the 100 school day requirement. Nevada Revised Statute 388.850 prevents a private school or “home school” student from enrolling in a program of distance education (online class). However, a private school or “home school” student may qualify for an ESA by taking one or more classes in a public or charter school, pursuant to NRS 386.580(5) and 392.070(3).” [NPRI]

Thus, a child can be enrolled in a public or state chartered school for 100 days, then be eligible for a voucher to pay for homeschooling curricula.  And, here we run into some problems – or, perhaps one big problem. Sectarian classroom materials.

Sectarianism is mentioned seven times in the Nevada Constitution. The first reference comes in Article II, and the fundamentals are clear as a bell.   “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”

[Amended in 1938. Proposed and passed by the 1935 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1937 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1938 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1935, p. 440; Statutes of Nevada 1937, p. 550.]

In  Section 9:  “Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.”

And Section 10: “No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

Home Sweet Home

In the home-school proponent perspective, a child who enrolls in 100 days of online (homeschool/distance) education should be eligible for ESA grants.  However, what distance learning or home-school curricula matters.  Thus, we’d have to ask if an ESA grant may be used to pay for sectarian home-school curricula and support materials?   If we look to Article II, sections 9 and 10, the answer appears to be a resounding NO.

The parent of a  child who is to be home-schooled must submit an “educational plan” for the child in order to be exempt from state mandatory attendance laws.  And:

“No regulation or policy of the State Board, any school district or any other governmental entity may infringe upon the right of a parent to educate his child based on religious preference unless it is:

  1. Essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and
  2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” [NHSN]

Okay, a parent may choose to home-school a child, using a religious curriculum, without discrimination.  The question becomes: Can the state funds be used to pay for it?

So far the parent may choose any curriculum – the district cannot discriminate based on religious affiliation – and who pays for the Stuff?

Stuff from Abeka K-12? Their 8th grade science book explains:

“From earthquakes and volcanoes to clouds and galaxies, show your child the features of God’s Creation here on earth as well as the Great Beyond with Science: Earth and Space! This textbook guides your child through a study of geology, oceanography, meteorology, astronomy, and environmental science. A thorough study of rocks, soil, and fossils will give your child ample proofs that this earth was created by God and not evolutionary processes.”

In brief, the last time I looked such an explanation was described as “creationism,” and “creationism” isn’t science, it’s theology.  Perhaps some materials from Bob Jones University Press?  Right off the bat the website tells us, “We want students to think, so we use inductive teaching, discovery activities, and probing discussion questions to develop thinking skills.”   Let’s step back a moment, there’s inductive and deductive reasoning; and, inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations.  By contrast deductive reasoning, the basis for most science, proposes an hypothesis and then tests observations. [LiveSci] Inductive reasoning is used in the crafting of theories and hypotheses, after which deductive reasoning is appropriate for testing those theories.  So, if we’re going to start and stop with inductive instruction we won’t get to the part where the evidence is truly tested?  However, there’s more, as the Bob Jones University curriculum describes its Biblically based instructional mission:

“The Bible teaches that in the Fall, human cognition and affection became broken. Verses like Jeremiah 17:9 and I Corinthians 2:14 teach that the fallen human mind cannot understand the world the way it was meant to be understood. Proverbs 1:7 teaches that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Here we learn that proper affection (“fear”) for God is the key to proper cognition (“knowledge”) regarding His world.”  […]

Good biblical integration has not happened until the student learns how the Bible is relevant to the subject at hand. This involves three levels of effort.

“In Level 1 biblical integration, the Bible is referenced while the subject is being taught, using biblical analogies or examples. In Level 2, the teacher shows the student how the Bible should guide him as he applies the academic discipline to real-life situations. The final level focuses on rebuilding the academics for the glory of God. Remembering the fallenness of the human mind, the teacher should call into question the secular assumptions of each subject and then encourage the student to rebuild the discipline from biblical presuppositions. The work of Christian education is the work of redeeming what has fallen.  We study all aspects of human culture because we see in that study the potential for redemption. As we view the academics through the lens of Scripture, we learn how we may be used to redeem those disciplines back to God.” [BJUpress]

If this isn’t sectarian, then I’m really not sure what would be.  To cut this bit short before it becomes a litany of examples of sectarian based instruction readily available from all manner of sources, and ranging widely in terms of quality, it’s fair to ask if a home-schooling parent should be remunerated for materials and supplies which teach creationism and centralize “redemption” as a focus of instruction?

Of course, there’s the other side of the issue – there are other religions which provide instructional materials – the Islamic Bookstore devotes a page to materials geared for young people, from pre-school to grade six.  One quick Google and you can find support groups for humanist and atheist home-schooling parents.  Seriously pagan or Wiccan? There’s a page for that too.

Meanwhile back at the Establishment Clause

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

Somewhat lost in all the recent rhetoric about “religious Freedom,” are the two pieces related to “religious liberty” incorporated in the First Amendment. Fundamental to understanding the first part, or the Establishment Clause, is the nature of the word “respecting:”

“The first of the First Amendment’s two religion clauses reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … .” Note that the clause is absolute. It allows no law. It is also noteworthy that the clause forbids more than the establishment of religion by the government. It forbids even laws respecting an establishment of religion. The establishment clause sets up a line of demarcation between the functions and operations of the institutions of religion and government in our society. It does so because the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression.”  [1st AmdCent]

Witness: the wars associated with the Reformation – the German Peasants’ War (1524-1525); the battle of Kappel (Switzerland 1531); the Schmalkaldic War (Holy Roman Empire 1546-1547); and then we move on to the Eighty Years War in the Low Countries (1568-1648), the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) and the Thirty Years War (Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Bohemia, France, Denmark, Sweden (1618-1648).    Not that the British Isles escaped the religiously based slaughter – there was the Scottish Reformation and attendant civil wars; and, the wars probably best recalled by the founders of this nation – the English Civil War (1642-1651).  The carnage is difficult to assess for the English Civil Wars – historical records count 84,830 dead as a result of the conflicts, other estimates range as high as 190,000 dead out of a total population of about 5 million people.

One doesn’t have to go too far back to be reminded of the effects of sectarianism in Northern Ireland, or do much more than turn on a television news broadcast of the latest atrocities perpetrated by Sunnis on Shias or Shias on Sunnis.

Little wonder the founders inserted the Establishment Clause.  And the State of Nevada acquiesced to this in Article I:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States.” (emphasis added)

Loud rhetoric, and even imprecations, from the radical religious right don’t change the overall framework – we do have an Establishment Clause, it was enacted with a mind to historical precedent and human nature, and the state of Nevada adopted it in its own Constitution.

What Does This Mean At the Bookstore?

According to the provisions of SB 302, money from the ESA may be spent to pay for:

Textbooks required for a child that who enrolls in a school that is a participating entity; … Textbooks required for the child at an eligible institution that is a participating entity or to receive instruction  from any other participating entity; … Purchasing a curriculum or any supplemental materials required to administer the curriculum.

A science text book that teaches “Creationism?” A “Biblically-Centered” curriculum?  Supplemental materials which amplify and explain doctrines such as: “When a child is born it is a cause for much happiness and celebration.  In Islam there is no preference for either a male or female child.  Quran says that both the male and the female were created from a single person (Adam) and that are equal except in terms of piety and righteousness.” [IslRel] And, that the Prophet categorically stated female children are a blessing and that raising them to be righteous believers is a source of great reward.  [IslRel]  Materials for Torah study?  Have we missed the Hindi? The Sikhs? The Jains? The Buddhists? The spirituality of Native Americans? …

If the state allows remuneration for the purchase of some sectarian materials and curricula then it must do it for all?  In light of the Establishment Clause, the question is reversed – Is there any condition in which the state is allowed to subsidize sectarian education? And, the answer is … NO.

To say that the state may not discriminate against those whose educational plans are religiously based is one thing, to say that the state must pay for the materials to implement religiously based education is quite another. It’s certainly going to take more than 100 days to get this mess sorted.

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Filed under education, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, religion, schools

Washington Ruling and Nevada’s School Voucher Cases

School Corridor Lockers No sooner do I post a piece on whether some forms of private education are prohibited by Nevada’s Constitution from receiving public funds than a ruling from the Washington Supreme Court strikes down funding for some charter schools in that state. [NewsTrib]

“In a 6-3 ruling issued late Friday afternoon, the high court said that the privately operated, publicly funded charter schools do not qualify as common schools under Washington’s Constitution and thus cannot receive public funding.” [NewsTrib]

Don’t be deceived by headlines declaring “court strikes down charter schools,” the ruling itself is far narrower.

“In the lead opinion, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said the case wasn’t about the merits of charter schools, simply whether they were eligible for public funds. Citing state Supreme Court precedent from 1909, she said they are not eligible because they are not under the control of local voters. Washington charters are run by private nonprofit organizations that appoint their own boards. Most, including Tacoma’s charters, are also under the oversight of the appointed Washington State Charter School Commission.” [NewsTrib]  (emphasis added)

And, this was the point addressed in yesterday’s post.  The crux of the Washington matter was RCW 28A.150.010:

“Public schools means the common schools as referred to in Article IX of the state Constitution, including charter schools established under chapter 28A.710 RCW, and those schools and institutions of learning having a curriculum below the college or university level as now or may be established by law and maintained at public expense.”

And Washington, also, has a definition of a “common school.”

“Common schools” means schools maintained at public expense in each school district and carrying on a program from kindergarten through the twelfth grade or any part thereof including vocational educational courses otherwise permitted by law.

[1969 ex.s. c 223 § 28A.01.060. Prior: 1909 c 97 p 261 § 1, part; RRS § 4680, part; prior: 1897 c 118 § 64, part; 1890 p 371 § 44, part. Formerly RCW 28A.01.060, 28.58.190, part, 28.01.060.]

These provisions are similar to those in NRS 388.020.   We should pay particular attention to the portion of the Washington decision which clarified the definition of a Common School:

“…a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent. “ [LWV v. Washington pdf]

The central point in the Washington decision is that because the charter schools are governed by non-elected boards and managers they are not within the scope of the Washington Constitution’s mandates on school funding.  The context is important because Article IX of the Washington Constitutions is explicit:

“The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”

Nevada’s Constitution is not so explicit in its language. [NVConst Article XI]  This raises questions about the cases filed against the school voucher law (ESA’s) filed in Nevada.  (1) In order to be categorized as a “common school” must an entity be ‘common to all children of the proper age and capacity, free, subject to district control?’   Does the classification of a charter operation as a Local Educational Agency qualify a charter corporation to be a recipient of funds from the State?

(2) Can the state confer LEA status to a private corporation, given the standard definition of an LEA?

“The term “local educational agency” means a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or of or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.” [Cornell.Law.Edu]

The federal Department of Education defines a Local Educational Agency as:

“As defined in ESEA, a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.”

Both definitions of a Local Educational Agency emphasize that an LEA must be a governed by a PUBLIC board or PUBLIC authority.  So, it may follow that in order to be considered part of the uniform system of common schools, a local school or local educational agency must be governed by those who are elected by the public.  Where the Nevada Constitution may be a bit fuzzy on the subject (except for the contents of the Permanent School Fund), federal standards for the categorization of a Local Educational Agency are more specific.

Nevada’s work-around appears to be to have the State Public Charter School Authority (1) ostensibly is subordinate to the State Board of Education (with elected members), and (2) to have created a “school district” composed of all the charter schools. [BalPed]  However, the authority to approve charter school applications is given to the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority, in NRS 386.509.  

Now, the situation is removed a step from the voters.  The members of the NSPCSA are:  Two members appointed by the Governor, Two members appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate, Two members appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, and one member representing the Charter School Association of Nevada (or successor organization.)  [NRS 386.5095]   Not to put too fine a point to it, but the organization determining the membership of the 3rd largest school district in the state of Nevada is composed entirely of appointed members.   This doesn’t seem to conform to the standard, or the federal, definition of a Local Educational Agency.  The legislature has declared the charters to be an LEA, [NRS 385.513] however, saying so doesn’t necessarily make it a constitutional practice.  So, there’s the question: Has the State of Nevada erred in declaring its “charter district” an LEA given it is not governed by elected members?

Further Into The Weeds

Another question raised by the enactment of the ESA school voucher program is that of “delegated authority” that is,  the authority of a board to delegate its authority to some other entity.  Did the State err in deciding that a separate authority could approve or disapprove of charters to operate public schools in this state?

This question has been raised before, in regard to the State Board of Regents (University System), in January 1968.  At the time the state was considering the establishment of vo-tech schools in the state which would not be subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Board of Regents.  The Attorney General was asked for an official opinion, and the response was:

“In our present analysis, however, the lines of demarcation from secondary education to university level are clear. If college level courses are taught, the school is functioning on a university level and, if tax supported, should be established and controlled by the Board of Regents through the University facilities. The faculty should be hired and paid through the Board of Regents. The institution should be financed by legislative appropriation to the Board for that purpose.”

In short, if there were to be community colleges the legislature could not unilaterally pull them out of the domain of the elected representatives who govern public higher education.  We might argue, by inference, that if courses are taught, and a school is functioning, in the manner of a “common school” then it should be under the control of the local school district.  And, thus we return back to the question of whether or not the legislature erred in establishing a “district” without boundaries, and without direct public control?

Then there is the matter of assigning responsibility for public education funds, and there has been a question regarding this topic.  Dial the Way-Back Machine to 1961, and the consideration of who would be responsible for the handling of federal funds to local school districts.  Back in the day, there were questions about how funds for special educational services would be accounted for; the AG’s opinion was:

“Regulations prescribing conditions under which funds, commodities or services from federal agencies may be accepted for use by public schools”) designates and authorizes the State Board of Education to regulate the execution of all state contracts and agreements for funds, services, commodities or equipment which may be provided by agencies of the Federal Government. The State Plan submitted by the State Education Department to qualify the State of Nevada for the federal funds here involved provided for responsibility and accountability of the State Education Department, on the state level, for proper use and expenditure of any federal funds which might be made available and allocated to the State of Nevada.”

Short version:  The State Board of Education was responsible for the “proper use and expenditure” of all funding from the Federal Government, and could establish rules for the allocation of county school district funds, i.e. “all moneys received from the federal government and any other receipts, including gifts, for the operation and maintenance of the public schools in the county school district.”

Now we have a nice hash developing.   If we accept the proposition that all public school funding is subject to the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education, then how does one justify the administration of school funds by the Office of the state Treasurer?

“SB 302 provides a means for Nevada Parents with children enrolled in a public/charter school to choose a different option to meet their educational needs. A parent who wishes to choose something other than a public school simply can apply for an Education Savings Account and a percentage of what the state funds for their child’s public education will be deposited into an account for that child. The funds can then be used for education related expenses at approved participating entities. Nevada’s ESA program is being administered by the State Treasurer’s Office (STO), who ultimately will be responsible for establishing the regulations, timelines, and program processes.”

Again, if it is constitutional to state that the money received from all sources comes under the province of the State Board of Education how is it constitutionally justified that a portion of those funds may be diverted into individual accounts, administered by an agency other than the elected Board of Education?

The situation in terms of the administration and financing of charter schools in Nevada isn’t quite as black/white as the situation and legal context in Washington, but several pertinent questions are in order.

  • Can a local educational agency be one which does not have elected leadership?
  • Are schools designated as “common” but under the direct administration of those not elected by the public be part of a “uniform system?”
  • Can the state create an “artificial district” not subject to the direct control of elected officials?
  • Can state funds under the oversight of the elected State Board of Education be diverted, and the administration be delegated to, another state agency?
  • If federal funds for public education coming to the several district must be administered by the state Department of Education, then must districts establish fully separate accounts so that these funds may not be diverted and their administration delegated?

These and other questions could keep Nevada courts busy for months? Years? Decades?

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And then there were two: 2nd Lawsuit filed against Nevada’s school voucher law

School Corridor Lockers There are now two lawsuits filed against the “Education Savings Account” law enacted by the last session of Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom.  The first came late last month from the ACLU, and now a second comes from parents who are disturbed that the law takes revenue collected for public education and diverts it to private and religious schools.

“The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims ESAs violate the state constitution by diverting funds “exclusively” meant for public schools to private schools and other private expenses. It also argues the ESA bill undercuts funding for public schools to a less-than-sufficient level and does not mandate private schools to follow the same non-discrimination and accountability rules that state law requires of public schools.

The lawsuit includes a request for a judge to permanently block the Nevada treasurer’s office from implementing the ESA program, according to a news release.”  [LVRJ]

The notion that private is always better than public seems to undergird the assumptions of the proponents of public support for private education.  There are several streams that converge into this ideological river, some stronger than others.  Some relevant to the issues at hand, and others less so. The arguments are worth exploring.


Proponents of the measure argue that since it’s the parents who make the funding request from the State Treasurer’s office, they have every right to make the diversion.  There’s a slippery slope question herein: Does an individual have the right to request the diversion of public funds for the benefit of a private enterprise?

For the sake of the general argument, let’s assume that we are not talking about schools in particular, but any state or local function.  A hypothetical might be illustrative, if not analogously probative – there is a reservoir stocked with fish by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, subsidized from about $231 million is expended in total on “fisheries management.” [NDW pdf] The sale of Trout Stamps brings in about $650,000 annually. [NDW pdf]  Approximately 1% of Nevada’s Department of Wildlife budget comes from the General Fund, and 2% from other state sources.  86% of the budget comes from wildlife fees and grants. Those fees include fishing licenses. A fishing license costs $13, and the Trout Stamp adds another $10 to the total.   Now, imagine an enterprise in close proximity to our hypothetical reservoir which charges admissions and fees to fish in the waters of its reservoir; no state license or special stamps required.

May a individual who doesn’t want to fish in public waters get $23 returned to a “fishing savings account” because he or she doesn’t want to fish in the public reservoir, and prefers to engage in that recreational activity on private lands, under private control?  Taxes and fees are combined to form the revenue base of the Department of Wildlife, so what is the justification for diverting funds from the Department of Wildlife back to those who do not wish to utilize its services?

We might apply the same analogy to other services like local libraries?  If a subscription library were to be established could local residents request a voucher for funds to subsidize their fees to the subscription library?  Could local residents request vouchers to reduce the burden for their payments to use private parks and pools?  May a local resident demand a voucher from a county government which collects property taxes, a portion of which are allocated to the operation of a hospital, if the resident chooses not to use the services of that local hospital?  Might a resident who pays for private security request a voucher for a “protection savings account” to subsidize his or her fees to the private security firm from taxes collected to finance the local law enforcement agencies?

There’s a tricky precedent here in the form of the “individual choice” argument.  The implications go far beyond the funding of private or parochial education, and range from the relatively minor (such as our fishing example) to the more serious (such as the public subsidies for public health or public safety services.)  Extrapolating this precedent could yield a chaotic system in which each individual is only obligated to pay for the “things” he or she personally wants. 

The Grass Is Greener

The “School Choice” argument has been framed as one of allowing parents to choose between the public and private system, with the private or charter schools held to be superior.  This argument branches out into several other strands.  In strand one, the question arises: Should public funds be used for the inculcation of religious ideals and dogma?

Article II of the Nevada Constitution is clear on this subject. “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”  Art II, Section 2 (emphasis added)

Sections 9 and 10 are equally exclusive: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.” And, “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

When the topic comes up three times in one brief segment of the State Constitution, we have to believe that those who crafted the document were serious about the subject.   So, when Bishop Gorman High School schedules Mass during the school day, would this violate the funding proscriptions in Article II of the State Constitution?  The answer seems clear in Section Ten. NO public funds of any kind or character whatever….”  Would this proscription also apply to the Southern Baptist Academy (K-12) online home schooling curricula?  Most likely.

Strand Two assumes parents want to make the best choices for their children, while the state has an obligation to create a “uniform system of common schools.” And at this point the categorization gets complicated.  There are parochial schools which are required to accept the children of any member of the parish.  There are also parochial schools, such as Bishop Manogue in Reno, NV which offer applications including recommendations from at least two teachers (math and English), and high school placement test results.  We should probably guess that those scoring higher will swim faster in the decision pools.  The Meadows is a non-sectarian school in Las Vegas, and its exclusivity is emphasized by the $15,500 to $24,025 tuition fees.  Neither exclusive (as opposed to totally inclusive) schools such as Bishop Manogue or The Meadows quite constitutes a “common” (as in totally inclusive) school.  Now, does a voucher – in the form of an ESA – violate the provisions of the State Constitution that revenue collected for educational purposes be used for schools which are not part of a “uniform system of common schools ” and really don’t intend to be?

Strand Three raises other categorical questions, such as when are other educational alternatives to be considered part of a “uniform system of common schools?”   For example, there are three forms of charter schools in Nevada depending on their sponsorship: District, University/College, and those approved by the State Public Charter School Authority.  The latter category gets us into some Alphabet Soup.  A private charter hires an ESP (Educational Service Provider) to handle day to day operations, and this management comes in two forms, the CMO and the EMO.  (Charter Management Organization, and Educational Management Organization) The EMO’s are more often those corporations which can afford to purchase school facilities.  Once the Alphabet Soup is sorted, it’s easier to examine the program management to see if it fits the template of a school’s definition of an institution fitting into a framework of “a uniform system of common schools.”

The extensive provisions of NRS 386 on Charter Schools should give some assurance of public accountability. There is an annual report from the Sponsor  NRS 386.610: For each charter school that it sponsors with a written charter, an evaluation of the progress of each such charter school in achieving the educational goals and objectives of the written charter. And, For each charter school that it sponsors with a charter contract, a summary evaluating the academic, financial and organizational performance of the charter school, as measured by the performance indicators, measures and metrics set forth in the performance framework for the charter school.  Three consecutive years of underperformance and determined by the CMO/EMO evaluation standards, and they’re out.

Not surprisingly, most of the Nevada charter schools are located in the Las Vegas suburban area.  Nor is it any great surprise that the ethnicity of 61.61% of the state charters is White, as compared to 35.98% statewide, and while the composition of public schools is about 40.56% Hispanic, the state charters enroll only 16.11% of that student population subset. [NVReport Card]  Surely, schools part of a “uniform system of common schools” would have enrollment statistics which better mirror those of the public schools? 

Thus, the question: If a school, while adhering to the testing regime of the State, isn’t representative of the enrollment of the “common schools” using even the most broad statewide description, does it qualify for public funding for its operations?  And, may a school, with the permission of the state, expend public funds if it fails to offer the same programs for special students as are required in the public schools?  In other words, do we have one system of common schools or two?

Who’s Choosing?

Heaven forbid I’m bashing private schooling – I’m one of its products.  However, I am also one who believes that private schooling is a choice, a choice made by parents who don’t want to avail themselves of the choice to send the kids to the public school.  Taxes are paid into state and local coffers for the maintenance of “a uniform system of common schools,” so that every other youngster in town who isn’t a parish member or having the luck to be born to parents who can afford private education,  isn’t denied  schooling.   The passage of the ESA legislation simply means I don’t have the choice NOT to pay for someone else’s choice to attend a private school.

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Filed under education, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

A Labor Day Warning: Make Up Artists and the erosion of consumer protection

Certified Seal A bill, AB 409 passed the Nevada Legislature last term, which illustrates the way opponents of consumer protection and professional licensure are moving to erode those public protections.  Superficially, the bill sponsored by Assembly members Seaman, Shelton, and Fiore, removed the requirement for make up artists to complete a nationally recognized written examination for work in a licensed cosmetological establishment.  Sounds simple enough, what could go wrong?  Oh, how about inflammatory dermatitis, folliculitis, and hives? [MedNet]  Or, inducement of an immune-mediated allergic response? [MedNet]

And, then there was another “simple” bill, SB 68.  Ostensibly, the bill would make it easier to recruit health care professionals to the state by creating an expedited licensing process.  Amendment 65 (adopted) included those subject to the Board of Medical Examiners, State Board of Nursing, State Board of Osteopathic Medicine, State Board of Podiatry, State Board of Examiners for Audiology and Speech Pathology, State Board of Pharmacy, State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, the Board of Occupational Therapy, the Board of Massage Therapists, the Board of Psychological Examiners, the Board of Examiners for Marriage and Family Therapists, and Clinical Professional Counselors, the Board of Examiners for Social Workers, and the Board of Examiners for Alcohol, Drug, and Gambling Counselors.  The following item specifying nursing applicants stands as illustrative of the others:

“3. Not later than 15 business days after receiving an application for a license by endorsement to practice as a professional nurse pursuant to this section, the Board shall provide written notice to the applicant of any additional information required by the Board to consider the application. Unless the Board denies the application for good cause, the Board shall approve the application and issue a license by endorsement to practice as a professional nurse to the applicant not later than: (a) Forty-five days after receiving the application; or (b) Ten days after the Board receives a report on the applicant’s background based on the submission of the applicant’s fingerprints,  whichever occurs later.

The other fine print in the bill as enacted is the change from a board which “may” issue the expedited license to the requisite “shall” issue such a license to practice. (See Sect. 8) Thus the appropriate board “shall” issue an license within 45 days; 45 days during which the board must determine the applicant is a citizen of the U.S., has not been disciplined and is currently not under investigation (for malpractice?), has not been civilly or criminally held liable for malpractice, submits finger prints, professes in an affidavit that everything in the application is true.  The corresponding board has 15 days to review the application before telling the applicant more information is needed, and another 30 to make a decision.

Expediting licensure, especially to fill vacancies in rural areas and in specialties which are understaffed, is a valid rationale for this legislation. However, what happens when the licensure requirements are less in another state than in Nevada?  For example, Nevada requires a college degree for drug, alcohol, and gambling addiction counselors – California does not. [SB 68 testimony]

The resolution to this is asserted to be “interstate reciprocity” agreements, including some 20 states including Nevada which have or supposedly will have legislation in place in the near future.  This is the intent of SB 251, which ratifies the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact.” (Introduced by: Hardy, Roberson, Brower, Farley, Harris, Oscarson, R. Titus, and co-sponsored by Ford, Goicoechea, and Gustavson.  Thus far the members of the Compact are: Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Alabama, and West Virginia. [LicensePort]  Frankly, this is a far cry from the universal portability of a medical license the original proponents imagined?

For those keeping score, Nevada now may exempt make-up artists from cosmetology examinations, and may issue expedited licenses to counselors and certain other health care service providers  who may have lesser academic credentials from other states but have active (and presumably unblemished) licenses to practice in another state.

Portability is a fine idea in theory in this interconnected modern environment, and given the mobility of the populace, probably a positive thing, provided – that the licensure (expedited or not) doesn’t impinge on standards already established for the protection of clients and customers.  Also, given the scramble to recruit certified individuals to fill health care positions – and the expansion of the definition of health care providers [SB 84]  – it behooves Nevada consumers to keep an eye on the Nevada Medical Practices Act (NRS 630) and other statutes which concern the licensure and reciprocity of professional providers – of all manner of services in which there is the possibility of injury to Nevada patients, clients, and customers.

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Filed under Nevada economy, nevada health, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

The Big Catch: Pay Us and We’ll Do The Right Thing

Banker Sorry A small group of ultra-wealthy individuals are getting alarmed by the widening income gap in America. [NYT]  Their cries hit some major news outlets and were analyzed in others. [Salon] [NationalMemo] And, as we might expect there’s a catch:  Corporate Welfare.

“There is a way to start. Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees making $80,000 or less. The program would exist for three to five years and then be evaluated for effectiveness.

The benefits would be huge. People would have more money to spend, and many would no longer need government help. That would mean a reduction in entitlements.” Peter Georgescu, CEO Young & Rubicam

Yes, you and many others read this correctly – CEO’s like Ken Langone (Home Depot founder) and Georgescu and Paul Tudor Jones are worried about the possibilities of either peasants with pitch forks or declining sales.  And, no, there is nothing new here. Nothing that ventures too far from the business model calling for tax breaks, cuts, incentives, etc. for corporations to locate in beautiful downtown West Buffalo Fart. 

If the suggestion weren’t so demonstrably callous it would be ludicrous and risible.  First, there’s nothing preventing companies from doing this without benefit of yet more tax cuts for the already wealthy corporations – or, is there.  Welcome back to the world of Shareholder Value!

Wal-Mart recently announced plans to increase company-wide minimum wage to $9 per hour, and to increase pay to $10 per hour for many employees by February.  And, then it bowed to the First Law of Staffing:

The company has also increased store staffing at peak hours so shoppers move quickly through checkout lines and see stocked shelves, said executives during the company’s quarterly earnings call earlier in August. [MarketWatch]

The old First Law is that you have enough employees if you can satisfy customer demand and maintain acceptable levels of client or customer service.  This should have been good news all around – except it wasn’t.

Those efforts contributed to a 15% drop in second-quarter net income compared with a year earlier, said executives. [MarketWatch]

What did Wall Street do?  The Street didn’t like that drop and punished Wal-Mart accordingly.

walmart stock

That’s right… it didn’t matter to investors if there were happier employees at the giant retailer; it didn’t matter that customers didn’t have to wait in the cashier’s line so long.  It mattered that the second quarter net income report was down on a YOY basis.

This is one of the more egregious contemporary examples of the Shareholder Value Monster trampling on any corporate plans to do what businesses should do best – meet customer demand with an acceptable level of customer/client service.

As long as the Financialists continue to steer the corporate ships details like customer service and employee retention – which used to inform management policy – will take a back seat to the quarterly earnings reports. So, Wal-Mart caved to the financial side and announced to its +/- 4,600 store managers that it would return to “pre-determined” staffing levels (back to the old levels), and cut employee hours to trim expenses.

CEO’s, of such organizations like Wal-Mart, are now trapped in a device of their own creation. If they attempt to offer higher wages (or improve the quality of customer service), both of which have long term benefits;  they are punished by the Shareholder Value oriented short term investors and their stock prices drop. If the stock prices drop so does executive compensation.  Should the stock prices drop too far in the estimation of investors the CEO can be gliding off on his or her Golden Parachute into the corporate sunset.

Thus, it isn’t surprising that the CEOs are anxious to have some taxpayer assistance “doing the right thing” (increasing wages) in the long term because the short-sightedness of the Shareholder Value Theory of Management has translated into a situation in which long term benefits are sacrificed on the altar of short term profitability.

The paycheck pinch: One of the CEO’s angling for government (read: taxpayer) assistance in decreasing the widening income gap is Ken Langone (Home Depot founder). Sales and revenue for Home Depot in 2011 was $68 billion, increasing to $83.1 billion in 2015. 2011 gross income was reported as $21.69 billion, increasing to $27.3 billion in 2015. Its current domestic income tax liability is $3.26 billion, it has a deferred domestic tax liability of $116 million. [Marketwatch]  And, Mr. Langone agrees that corporations should be given tax breaks in order to pay more to the employees of concerns like Home Depot.

There are some 20 Home Depot stores in Nevada, most in the Las Vegas area, some in Reno/Sparks, and a couple in what is understood as rural Nevada, Elko and Pahrump.  There are plenty earning less than $80,000 per year in these operations.  The wages for a sales associate range from $8.67 to $13.95; cashiers earn from $7.93 to $10.83; department supervisors earn between $12.01 to $18.91; and, retail sales associations can make from $8.68 to $17.16.  (See as information updates)

These salaries have tax implications in Nevada as a result of 2015 legislation:

The Modified Business Tax (MBT) is currently imposed on businesses other than financial institutions in the amount of 1.17 percent of wages paid above an exemption level of $85,000 per quarter. Financial institutions pay a higher rate of 2 percent. The MBT rate had been scheduled to decline to 0.63 percent for nonfinancial institutions beginning July 1, 2015. The MBT base has been narrowed significantly since the tax’s introduction in 2003, with exemption level increases in 2011 and 2013.

After significant debate over whether to expand the MBT or adopt a new gross receipts tax, the final plan includes elements of both options. The MBT will increase from 1.17 percent to 1.475 percent for most businesses, effective July 1, 2015. Mining companies will join financial institutions in paying the higher 2 percent tax rate. The MBT base is broadened by reducing the exemption to $50,000 per quarter, increasing the estimated number of MBT taxpayers to 18,607, up from the 13,492 paying the tax at present.[2] An earlier proposal to remove the MBT exemption for employer-provided health care costs was dropped.

After the first year, taxpayers may deduct up to 50 percent of their Commerce Tax payments over the previous four quarters from their MBT liability. Moreover, should total revenue from all business taxes exceed projections by more than four percent, the MBT rate will be adjusted downward, though to a rate no lower than 1.17 percent. [TaxFoundation]

Note the last paragraph, even with a compromise between larger and smaller corporations in Nevada, there’s still a bit of a tax break allowed on the Commerce Tax depending on the “previous four quarters.”  We’re probably not looking at any massive tax breaks in the 2015 legislation, but we need to add these to the $88 million in breaks given to Apple [MJ]  and the state’s generosity to Tesla in the form of $1.25 billion. [RGJ] In the latter deal the understanding was that Tesla would pay an average of $25/hr.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but corporations are quite used to having government entities, be they Apple in Nevada and North Carolina, Tesla in Nevada, or the bargaining in the 2015 Nevada legislature over how to maintain tax revenues, engage in tax-payer subsidies for corporate operations.  Thus, it’s not the least bit surprising the CEOs would ask for tax-payer subsidization for payroll increases.

It would be a reasonable conjecture to conclude that Home Depot and other Big Box firms like Wal-Mart might be willing to adopt staffing policies which increase employee wages and provide for better customer service –IF and ONLY IF there are further tax breaks associated with those policies which will please the short-term oriented Shareholder Value financialists who pull on the purse strings.

Hanging the Wash? Consider what the CEOs are proposing – it’s all good: “The benefits would be huge. People would have more money to spend, and many would no longer need government help. That would mean a reduction in entitlements.”  But wait, there’s some loaded language herein.  Programs like SNAP, and subsidized housing, or similar assistance to low wage earners are NOT entitlements. These are situational support programs for people in need.  Social Security/Medicare, into which people have paid for decades are entitlements – you get what you paid for.

Loaded language aside,  What happens when the corporations raise wages, projected to reduce the number of people receiving social assistance, but the revenues for that social assistance are reduced by the tax breaks given to the corporations in order to support those very same wage increases? The tax payers are on the hook either way – they either pay for the social assistance programs which subsidize low wages,  or they subsidize the tax breaks to corporations to reduce the need for the social programs?  It’s a win-win for the corporations, and a lose-lose for the average American.


Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, nevada taxation, Politics

When Parrots Make Policy: Ron Knecht and the Great Trickle Down Hoax


Ron Knecht is the Nevada state controller.  He is a true believer in the Trickle Down Hoax and associated subsets of this egregious rationale for corporate welfare.  Not sure about the validity of this assertion? Read Knecht’s own words.   Mr. Knecht is most upset about the spending approved by the last session of the Legislature, sufficiently upset to grace Nevada editorial pages with his latest diatribe.

The first proposition in Knecht’s screed is that we are under-reporting the level of Tax Burdens on Nevada citizens.  His second major point is that “substantial empirical research shows that the numbers that determine the impact of government on economic growth and the public interest are total government spending amounts, not only those from particular accounts or sources. Research cited in our Controller’s Monthly Report #1 (at shows that total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.” [EDFP]

There are two problems with this paean to Koch Corporation Economic Theory. 

Problem One:  The assertion assumes that all government spending has a negative relationship to economic stability or growth.   Gross Domestic Product Formula

For an individual who has an academic background in mining economics, it’s remarkable that he’s possibly forgotten the good old, often cited, GDP formula in which “G” for government is part of the formula by which we measure the economy of both the states and the nation. Nor can we assume all governmental expenditures are counterproductive.  If, for example, the Federal government  decided to close Nellis AFB, what would be the impact on the Nevada economy?   Here’s the answer: (pdf)

As of 2012 there were 32,771 included in the base employment figures. 8,186 active duty military, 20,231 dependents, 289 reserves, civilian employees totaling 868.  There were 563 “non appropriated funds” civilian employees, and 2,055 on-site contract civilians; 579 “other civilians” were employed at the base.  The estimated dollar value of the jobs created at Nellis AFB was $229.7 million.  Expenditures at Nellis (federal and state) totaled $5,071.4 million.

Problem Two: Since the argument that all government spending is necessarily excessive is untenable, Mr. Knecht falls back on a subjective observation: “total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.”   We’re left with at least two questions about this assertion. First, how big is “too big?”  Secondly, what’s magical about speaking of the last 55 years (since 1960)?

There is no way to objectively answer the initial question, the percentage of state and local spending relative to the GDP ranges from 5.9% in 1948 to 11.4% in 2014.  We could be dramatic and declare that this represents a 93% increase in state and local spending from their own sources over a 67 year period, but then we have to remember we’re speaking of 67 years, and the annual increase is an unimpressive 1.38%.

The percentage of state and local governments from their own sources as a percentage of GDP was 8.4% in 1960.  This would yield a 36% increase over the last 55 year period, an annual increase of 0.6545.   Even if we extend the numbers as globally as does Knecht in his discussion of expenditures and include federal, state, and local outlays, the total expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 25.7 in 1960 and 31.7 in 2014, an increase of 23% over the 55 year period, or  0.4181 annually. [OMB download Table 14.3]

State Local Expenditures GDP There’s nothing particularly dramatic about the state and local expenditures chart, and even less about the total outlays of the federal, state, and local expenditures.

Fed State Local Spending percentage of GDP The annual increases simply do not support the level of histrionics associated with the clamor from right wing politicians for decreased government spending.  Further, there is no reason not to take the numbers back as far as they go – to 1948.  There’s nothing magical about the last 55 years, certainly nothing in the actual numbers, which supports the assertion that we’ve experienced some form of grotesque increase in the level of spending as a percentage of GDP.

Problem Three:  Hyperbole doesn’t equate to substantiation. Knecht continues:

“This continued metastasis of government has slowed economic growth significantly over the last half century, directly damaging the public interest and producing an ever grimmer (not better) future for our communities and children. And Nevada politicians and special interests have played a substantial role in this uncaring destruction, especially those who supported this year’s taxing and spending blowout.

What are the true facts? First, state spending’s (sic) already excessive burden on our lives and wellbeing has increased 10 percent faster in the last decade than the incomes of Nevada families and businesses. (Due to changes in reporting categories, there is no pre-2004 total spending data comparable to figures since then; otherwise, we would use it. Hence, meaningful comparisons to earlier years such as 1992 are not possible.)” [EDFP]

These paragraphs don’t represent an economic argument, they are an ideological one.   Again, there’s an un-anchored assertion, that without the increase in government spending there would have been greater overall economic growth.   Since there’s no empirical data available because we can’t undo the government spending in the last 50 to 67 years, we’re left with an assumption – that all the revenue collected and spent by various levels of government would automatically have been re-invested in productive economic activity.   

The experience of 2007-2008 should have given us an example of what can go wrong when money isn’t transferred in ways described by classical economic theory.  Money didn’t necessarily move from investors into plant expansion and greater employment – too much went to feed the Wall Street Casino, into increasingly sophisticated financial products which had more interest in Bubble Manufacturing than in creating financial stability.  Perhaps in some utopian, and essentially academic, system money not spent on taxes would have been put into research, development, manufacturing, and sales efforts – but in the very real world of modern finance that’s not how the system works.  Mutations such as the management theory of shareholder value, and the rise of the Financialists, insured that the old illusions don’t make a solid foundation for current realistic economic discussions.

Additionally, as noted with the Nellis AFB example, not all government spending is universally considered economically counter productive.  Nor can it be effectively argued that government spending doesn’t enhance economic stability and promote growth.   Investments in infrastructure, such as the national highway system, can lead to decreases in production costs, and increases in output, yielding a net rate of return above that of private capital as shown during the forty year period from 1950 to 1989. [Rand pdf]

Knecht also attempts to create a cause and effect relationship between “excessively burdensome” taxation/spending and stagnant wages.  Welcome to the land of Post hoc ergo propter hoc.   Controller Knecht’s diatribe manages to ignore the effects of “gains in labor productivity, the division of earned income between labor and capital profits, and the allocation of labor compensation among wages and nonwage benefits.” [Brookings]  Nor does he cite the trends related to full employment, declining union density, the misclassification of employees, and the race to the bottom in labor standards. [EPI]  Knecht’s also omitting a new notion, “downward nominal wage rigidity,” in which workers in a buyers market are fearful of losing all employment so will settle for lower wages. [RCM]  [Economist]  Even the hard-right Federalist Society, of which Knecht is a member, cites “reduced labor demand,” “increased labor supply,” (and gratuitously tosses in the Affordable Care Act) as causal factors in wage stagnation.  In short, his simplistic, post hoc ergo propter hoc argument misses the point from the left, the center, and the right.  He might as well argue that wages have grown slowly since the beginning of the general economic recovery,  mid 2009, because Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tournament on July 4, 2009.

Problem Four: Here’s another leap of logic which borders on the inexplicable.  Knecht’s syllogism appears to be: (1) Nevada has a median state and local tax burden; (2) Local governments are subsidiaries of the state; (3) Therefore, the state is responsible for negotiation results between local governments and local public employees.

“In fact, Nevada’s total state and local tax burden – that’s what matters, not headcounts – has risen to the midpoint: 25th or 26th in the U.S., depending on how measured. Because local governments are subsidiaries of the state and governed by it, legislators and governors bear significant responsibility for local spending too – especially the excesses caused by state laws allowing public-employee unions to drive local spending ever higher.”

There’s almost nowhere to begin with this other than to assume Knecht believes that local employee contracts are to blame for “excesses” in local spending.  Again, we’re in subjective territory.  How much is too much?  How much, for example, is too much to pay a police officer or sheriff’s deputy for being willing to engage with some of the most dangerous people in the state?  For being targets for radical right wing lunatics while the officers are trying to catch a bit of lunch in a pizza establishment?  How much is too much for a firefighter – how many people are willing to run into instead of out of a burning building? 

How much is too much to pay a county social worker?  The average caseload for a Child Protective Services investigator in Clark County is 18. The average case load for those responsible for supervising foster care is 13.  Or, to put it another way social workers are responsible for about 25 children per worker. [LVRJ]  The recommended standards are 12-15 children per social worker in foster family care, 12 active cases per month for initial assessment and investigation for every social worker; 17 active ongoing family cases per social worker with no more than one new case assigned for every six open cases.  The standard for a combined assessment and investigation in ongoing cases is 10 ongoing and 4 active cases per social worker. [CWLA]  

While hard cap number ratios may not reflect the flexibility needed to handle all local cases, recruiting and retaining trained professionals who are responsible for assessment, service planning, implementing and monitoring services, advocacy for children or adults who need basic services, interdisciplinary  and inter-organizational collaboration, record keeping,  and practice evaluation and improvements. [SWorg pdf] And, all this for about $45,000 to $66,000 per year.

Of course, there’s always that pesky teacher’s union – driving up the costs of public education – since there’s no way to run a school without teachers.  The current Clark County salary schedule begins at a non-too-impressive $34,637 and terminates for an “ASC + PhD” on step 15 at $72,331.  The median household wage in Nevada is $53,042.   In the private sector a doctorate in economics will get a person about $98,200 early in his or her career; a doctorate in statistics will get a person about $99,900 in the early years, increasing to approximately $128,000 in the later years.  [Payscale]

Aside from declaiming, without context, that salary negotiations are a significant driver of “excessive” local spending, Knecht also ignores another picky detail – population. In 1960 there were approximately 291,000 residents of the state of Nevada, 285,278 to be more exact.  By 2010 there were 2,839,000 residents.  There was an 895% increase in the population of the state in last 50 years.  This is the point at which “headcounts” do matter, it obviously takes more people to deliver services to 2.8 million persons than it does to provide them to 291,000.

NV Population 1960 2010

And now comes Controller Knecht’s finale, discounting efforts made by legislators to address spending issues in a rational manner:

“…as if hearing every detail of the budget means that politicians make the right decisions. Legislators can’t really know the value of each spending proposal when they hear almost exclusively from proponents, most of them paid for by our tax dollars to advocate for their interest, not for voters, taxpayers and the public interest. They certainly can’t determine its net social value unless they get equally extensive testimony in the same hearings on the damage done by the taxes needed to fund each item – and they never do that.”

There are a couple of features which require untangling in this paragraph. First, a person can be an advocate for social workers and also be a voter, a tax payer, and a person concerned with the public interest.  An advocate for highway funding is also a voter, a taxpayer, and concerned with the public interest.  There is no way to compartmentalize people, their advocacy, and their public spirit.   In Mr. Knecht’s taxonomy anyone who advocates for better police, fire, education, and social services, or highways, health inspections, public mental health services, parks, wildlife, and libraries – is not advocating “for the public interest.”  As if the public interest lies solely in diminishing these services in the name of “smaller government.”  This isn’t an economic argument – it is completely, totally, an ideological statement; and, it’s judgmental to boot.  So also is the term “net social value.”

“Net social value” is one of those buzzwords associated with radical right wing economics of austerity, and unfortunately it comes without any real meaning. [Guardian] It’s related to the economic term “social return on investment,” which is only slightly more precise.  “Social Return on Investment is an analytic tool for measuring and accounting for a much broader concept of value, taking into account social, economic and environmental factors.” [NewEcon]   Knecht’s context seems to place the “net social value” proposal closer to the Cost Benefit Analysis methodology and not quite so analogous to the SROI calculations.  Analysis in these terms can get very mushy very quickly.

For example, in purely economic terms (and ones Controller Knecht may find troubling) one of the best SROI or “net social value” or just old fashioned economic stimulus spending is the SNAP program.  A USDA Study designed to test whether or not SNAP benefits improved the economy found that an increase of $1 billion created about $1.79 billion in economic activity (GDP.) Or, that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates about $9 in economic activity. [USDA]

If we expand the terms to include socially beneficial activities the measurement becomes more difficult to manage. How, for example, do we measure the quantitative benefits of public libraries?  Several states have made the attempt and most have returned results which might be at variance with Mr. Knecht’s ideological preferences.  South Carolina reported that for every $1 spent on public libraries contributed $2.86 in value to the state’s economy.  Florida studied 17 public libraries and demonstrated about $6.40 in economic benefit for every $1 in their budgets. [ALA]

Mr. Knecht assumes that “net social value” cannot be determined unless there  is equal weight given to the opponents of government spending for government services.  This, in turn, assumes that the arguments of the opponents are of equal quality and veracity as those of the proponents.  The evident extrapolation of Mr. Knecht’s argument is that any advocacy of government spending on government services must be self-serving, and therefore cannot be in the public interest. However, what are we to make of a hypothetical argument advanced by public health nurses that the state invest more in the inspection and regulation of out patient surgical centers? Simply because some such centers do not care to be inspected and regulated are we to assume that there would be a “negative net social value” to the increased number of inspections? What are legislators to do?  Knecht advises “focus?”

“Above all, they can’t make the right decisions if they substitute laboring over program details for focusing on the premier fact that government is already so big – even while still growing – that it has slowed economic growth to a long-term crawl and thus damaged our communities and children’s futures. If they really cared, they’d address and fix that first.”

Repeat the drum roll: Larger government = slow economic growth. As we’ve seen earlier in this post, that argument doesn’t stand under even cursory scrutiny.  This is a highly subjective point of view, and informed more by ideology than by economics.   If our legislators “really cared” they’d go over those program details, looking for ways to streamline services without compromising the basics, and in doing so would address issues in education, public safety, public health, and the quality of life in Nevada – without resorting to ideological blinders.  We could use more wise owls, and fewer parrots?

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