Category Archives: Sandoval

The Story Almost Lost in Las Vegas

If you haven’t bookmarked the Nevada Independent, please do so.  There’s a reward for you. Stories that almost get lost in the maelstrom of corporate media find a home therein.  Like this one:

“In a letter dated Sept. 25, attorney Mark Ferrario — representing Nevadans for Background Checks, the group that backed the ballot question — gave Sandoval and state officials a deadline of Oct. 9 to begin implementing the ballot measure before they turn to the court system to settle the matter.”

Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Governor Sandoval haven’t covered themselves in glory on gun issues in the Silver State. Did you catch the date? September 25, 2017. In a matter of days the Issue No One Wants To Talk About Now Except For People Who Are Tired Of Not Talking About It raised up in an horrific way.  Lives lost, lives interrupted and disrupted by injuries, lives transformed by heinous nightmares, lives shattered by loss.

One of the saddest elements of this story is that, no, more thorough background checking may not have prevented this act of evil.  But, the GOP test is irrational.  If any legislation must prevent the last carnage then there’s never a way to make any progress.

What would have prevented the shooter at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando being a disaffected disconnected loser with personal and domestic issues, from packaging his issues into a flurry of violence?  Certainly, some mental health therapy might have been useful, but there is more than one element to a crime.  He acted out his anger and disturbance with an AR-15.

The shooter at Virginia Tech in 2007 was a student with a history of mental health issues. Again, those issues contributed to his act, but the act could not have been accomplished without being able to secure a Walther P22 and a  9-mm Glock semi-automatic pistol.

Another misfit with serious social and emotional problems used a Savage Mark II to murder his mother before taking four other guns to the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  He used a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle to complete his massacre of teachers and little children.

No gun regulation bill is going to solve the psychological, emotional, and social problems of individuals who use guns to act out their various motives and grievances.  However, while the study of motives is informative and interesting it doesn’t address what made the atrocities so deadly.  It doesn’t take rocket science to see that in the three examples given above the acts were increasingly deadly because of the nature of the weaponry involved.

Members of the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC would have benefited had there not been a loophole in the background check laws, exploited by Dylan Roof. [NYT]  More thorough background reviews might have mitigated the shooting at Virginia Tech.  The point is that these examples call for greater care in the process of background checks, and NOT for dismissing the utility of background checks because of some perceived failure to stop a specific atrocity.

Perhaps it’s time for Governor Sandoval and AG Laxalt to move back from their slippery slope arguments against the common sense application of restraints on gun ownership and use, and note that church members, students, theater goers, night club revelers, and concert attendees have the right to be safe from the predations of the devils who invade their public spaces with ever more deadly weapons.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics, Sandoval

The Worth of Water: Nevada and its State Drought Plans

NV Drought Map Sept 2015 Consider the following information from the Reno Gazette Journal:

“In Nevada, all counties but White Pine and Lincoln are designated as drought disaster areas. Washoe, Storey, Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, Churchill, Esmeralda, Lander, Mineral and Nye counties are all in conditions of extreme or exceptional drought, with Lovelock’s Pershing County among the “hardest hit areas,” according to the Aug. 17 drought statement issued by the National Weather Service.”

And this:

“It’s difficult to overstate the dire impacts, said Benny Hodges, secretary-treasurer of the Pershing County Water Conservation District. As the drought lowered the Humboldt River and levels of Rye Patch Reservoir — now at about 5 percent of capacity — continued to drop, irrigation water for Lovelock area farmers went from scarce to non-existent. Irrigation allocations went from 80 percent of normal in 2012, the first year of the drought, to only 10 percent in 2013. This year is the second in a row that no irrigation water was available at all.”

There are some actions which are the direct result of a drought designation by the US Department of Agriculture: in 17 of Nevada’s governmental entities farmers and ranchers will be eligible for low interest emergency loans to continue operations. [AgWeb]

A reasonable person would think that an arid state would have some plans on file for dealing with drought conditions – other than directing agricultural operations toward emergency loans.  As of December 28, 2014 Nevada really  didn’t. [RGJ]  Although it must be said there was a document in some filing cabinet, which the Governor had received in 2012 concerning drought planning.  Local water districts and companies have drought plans, but as of December 2014 that didn’t necessarily hold true for the state.

It wasn’t until April 8, 2015 (with Nevada now into the fourth year of drought conditions) that the Governor’s office announced the creation of a “forum” to “craft a blueprint on best practices for water users and conservation.” [LVRJ]

What’s interesting about that the announcement at the shrinking lake side was that Governor Sandoval received a “State of Nevada: Drought Response Plan” (pdf) from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the State Climate Office, and the Department of Public Safety, as revised in April 2012.  

“This State Drought Response Plan establishes an administrative coordinating and reporting system between agencies to appropriately respond and provide assistance to address drought and mitigate drought impacts. […] this Plan identifies a system used in monitoring the magnitude, severity and extent of drought within the state on a county by county basis. It establishes a framework of actions based on three states of responding to drought. Drought Watch, Drought Alert, and Drought Emergency.”

Scrolling down through the 2012 executive summary we find, “If a drought reaches Stage #3 (Drought Emergency) upon the decision of the Governor, the Division of Emergency Management may activate the State Emergency Operations Center. This center will be advised by the Drought Response Committee, making drought response policy recommendations as needed, supporting local drought emergency response efforts and carrying out the Governor’s policies.”

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the 2012 document is the insertion of diagrams designating the process for informing the Governor, sorting the activities of various authorities, and assisting the Governor in the setting of “the state’s priorities, drought mitigation, response and recovery policy and resource allocation direction based on information and recommendations given to the Governor by the Drought Response Committee and the needs of affected local jurisdictions, county or tribe.”

Another element in the 2012 document of interest is the insertion of some very tepid language about drought designations and their associated impact on other economic activities. “Formal designation may not substantially reduce economic impacts in drought affected areas but may cause serious economic impacts on tourism, agriculture, finance and other industries within the state. Unless a drought situation is expected to be of extreme magnitude, the safest approach is to aid county and local governments in determining their own situations.”

And with that the 2012 State of Nevada Drought Response Plan dumps the problems back onto the counties, local water suppliers, and tribes.  Thus, it isn’t easy to get an “emergency” drought designation in the first place, and when the designation or announcement is made the plans submitted by the various entities which deliver water within the state are supposed to kick in.

NRS 540 codifies this system.  Water suppliers are defined (NRS 540.121), water conservation plans, which are to be updated every five years, are required (NRS 540. 131) and are to be published “to the extent practicable” for public inspection on websites (NRS 540.141).  Water supplies are to provide incentives for water conservation. (NRS 540.151).

It’s easy to see why initial reports said there really wasn’t a statewide water conservation/drought plan – the plan appears to be that the state will require individual entities to have approved plans, and that the state will announce when the drought emergency elements of those various plans will be implemented – bearing in mind that given the soft language in the 2012 Drought Response document it’s probably going to be difficult to get the state to make that initial emergency announcement.

We return now to Sandoval’s Executive Order 2015-03, April 8, 2015.  After the preliminary “whereas’s” in which it’s admitted that Nevada has a water problem, and that the Nevada Drought Response Committee authorized by the 2012 document has been “continuously monitoring” the drought conditions,  the Governor has decided we need another report, from another layer of administration.

Sandoval established the Nevada Drought Forum in order to: (1) build on the activities of the existing Nevada Drought Response Committee; (2) evaluate key findings and next steps identified in the Western Governors’ Drought Forum Final Report (latest available is the Special Report, June 2015) as they relate to Nevada; (3) meet with relevant stakeholders; and (4) determine, with input from stakeholders and the public, the elements of a final report to the Governor.

As part of the bullet points in the executive order, there will be a Governor’s Drought Summit on September 21-23.  Unless some highly specific topics are generated in periods for “Showcases: Conservation Success Stories in Nevada,” or from the sessions on municipal, resort and recreation, industry and development, and agricultural water conservation – there doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on the development of a state PLAN for dealing with drought conditions.

To add more opacity to the issue, that Western Governors’ Drought Forum Report concluded:

“(1) Drought’s consequences ripple across western economies, communities, and environments. Preventing or halting drought is impossible, but there are useful strategies for enhancing resilience to its effects.  WGA will continue to work on drought by enhancing its Drought Forum online resource library, hosting webinars and workshops and briefing state and federal policymakers. (2)  WGA will perform additional outreach to drought task forces in the western states to identify data gaps that need to be addressed. (3) WGA will also compare  and contrast the approaches of these state task forces in order to identify additional best practices. (4)  In response to one of the key themes identified during the Drought Forum,  WGA will work with state and federal partners to support robust data collection and enhanced analyses and tools for drought management. Furthermore, the governors will consider the policy recommendations that emerged from the first year of Drought Forum as they work to improve the regional response to drought and to influence national decisions affecting water supply and resource management.”  (numeration added) (Special Report June 2015)

There’s good and bad news herein.  In item (1) there’s no indication that the western Governors are aware that one of the ways to mitigate drought is to acknowledge that climate change is a modern reality.  Indeed, there’s no small amount of fatalism – droughts might just be the new reality.  “Prevention is impossible,” is about as fatalistic as it gets. (2) is just about as safe a proposal as one can make – there’s always a need for more and better data collection. However, there’s nothing in this conclusion that insures there will be money in state budgets for such data collection and analysis.  (3) Best practices are also a safe bet.  However, it will require some legislative and executive will power to enact best practices into law, and to administer the statutes with an emphasis on conservation.  (4)  We’re back to data collection and sharing – a fine thing – but someone needs to pay for the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data.  Executive orders are usually good, but appropriations are nearly always better.

Color me a bit cynical, however a look at the sponsors of the WGA Drought Forum leaves some questions about the level of intensity with which they will address governmental actions necessary to address drought in western states.  NOAA and the Walton Family Foundation are “workshop partners,” the State of Oklahoma is a “regional forum sponsor,” “project sponsors” include the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Coeur Mining, Water Asset Management LLC, and Layne Inc.  “Report sponsors” include HDR, NHA, Nevada Mining Association, Dairy Farmers of America, Barrick, SRP, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Parjana, Pepsico, and Chevron.  “Communication sponsors” are ASI, Resolution Copper Mining, CAP, ECOS, National Groundwater Association, the Geological Society of America, Paramount Farming, and Irrigational & Electrical Districts Assn of Arizona.

And so, the Nevada Drought Forum has a nice shiny website, with updated information on monthly situations reports (the last up was for June 2015) – in which a person could find out if he or she was experiencing emergency, extreme, or exceptional drought conditions.  Or, discover that there have been three monthly meetings since June 2015, and a fourth scheduled for September 28, 2015.   Since minutes are not yet available online for the August meeting, we’ll not know if concerns expressed in a previous meeting about the lack of representation from wildlife advocates and rural areas were addressed in that session.

Questions?

  1. If the drought in Nevada is particularly extreme in rural areas like Pershing County, why were there no representatives on the Governor’s list of appointments to the Drought Forum from rural agricultural interests? Has this since been rectified?
  2. If we are aware of the effects of drought conditions on wildlife – why no initial representation for those interests? Has this been rectified?
  3. If we know that extreme weather conditions are associated climate change, and with droughts such as the one Nevada is experiencing now, then what elements of climate change science will be incorporated into the state’s planning for drought mitigation efforts?
  4. If the Nevada Drought Forum is directed to present its report to the Governor on November 1, 2015, then what actions has the Governor’s office taken to facilitate the enactment of legislation to implement the report findings in advance of the release?  The WGA Special Report (June 2015) emphasizes data collection.  If the report meshes with the WGA efforts,  do the various departments and divisions have the necessary funding to collect and analyze the data? 
  5. The Governor’s executive order doesn’t indicate any change in the status of the 2012 State of Nevada Drought Response plan, if the November report suggests changes in the SNDR then are the departments capable of implementing those changes?

So we resume our quotidian activities – further illustrating the truth of the old quote: “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”  (Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia  1732.

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Filed under Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Sandoval, Water

Cluck, Cluck, AB 394 comes home to roost?

Chickens Roosting

A quick review:  Nine Republican members* of the Nevada Assembly introduced AB 394 in the last session, the bill would create a process for breaking up the Clark County School District into smaller, separate, districts because – “…Reconfiguring the structure of the Clark County School District into local school precincts will offer an educational system that is responsive to the needs and concerns of the residents of that school district;..”   (*Gardner, Fiore, Jones, Silberkraus, Hickey, Dickman, O’Neill, Seaman, and Trowbridge)

The bill passed in the Assembly on a 35-5 vote, and the Senate on a 13 to 7 vote, with one excused.  It was signed into law by Governor Sandoval on June 11, 2015.

The Numbers Game

For a party, the members of  which take umbrage at any suggestion they aren’t the party of fiscal responsibility, fiduciary trust, and conservative financial values, AB 394 demonstrates a level of financial naïveté that could easily be categorized as sophomoric. 

There is a inkling in AB 394, during its preliminary discussion of rural district consolidation in which there’s a hint that the Assembled Wisdom understood the principle of Economies of Scale.  However, the venerated Assemblage turned right around in the same bill and pretended these didn’t exist for the one district in the state actually large enough to benefit from those economies of scale.  For the uninitiated, here are some of the babes pitched out with the bath water in the interest of creating “responsive” little districts:

(1) The larger the operation (business) the more individual employees are able to specialize in various tasks creating technical expertise which in turn creates greater efficiency.  For example, a larger school district might be able to finance a specific office that focuses on testing and the administration of examinations.  In a smaller district these tasks might be assigned to a ‘curriculum director’ whose office is also responsible for the development of course content, the in-service training of teachers in that content, and the mapping of the curricular content throughout the district.  In the business domain, larger firms can separate tasks in the offices or on the shop floors that allows specialists to develop proficiencies in technical or production tasks.  

(2) Bulk purchasing.  Think of the difference in pricing between supermarket chain stores and the local corner bodega.  Volume, plus reduction in packaging and transportation costs, mean lower per unit expenses. There are approximately 24,286 first graders in the Clark County School District.  There are approximately 4,869 first graders  in the Washoe County School District.  [CCSD and Washoe SD]  Which has the better capacity to buy in bulk?  Which can negotiate for more discounts?

(3) Spreading overhead expenses.   Republicans, often supportive of mergers and acquisitions, note that the mergers of private sector firms allow for the rationalization of operation centers. or to put in more simply – it’s better (more efficient) to have one main office than two.   Again, the schizoid nature of AB 394 says that the rationalization of overhead expenses is fine for the rural districts, but CCSD is “just too big?”  By this logic, Goldman Sachs, Chevron, and JP Morgan Chase would have been broken up long ago.

(4) Let’s get to one economies of scale factors that’s extremely important for a large metropolitan population, the concept of Risk Bearing Capacity.  Again, the larger the enterprise the higher its risk bearing capacity.  The most common example of this factor is in the pharmaceutical industry wherein large corporate firms are able to finance (borrow for) research because profit lines in popular products provide investors with the assurance that the debts incurred can be paid off at the agreed interest rate.  Now, take a look at the Debt Service reported in the CCSD financials:

CCSD debt service

What we’re looking at above are all the bonds issued by the Clark County School District on which the district is paying off principal and interest.  Nor it is too difficult in a rapidly expanding population to have to issue bonds for school construction or renovation.  Schools aren’t  cheap to build and equip.  Constructing an elementary school for about 600 youngsters, at $190 per square foot will cost about $14,800,000.  A middle school for just over 900 students costs $215.14 per square foot, with a total cost of approximately $30,000,000.  High schools are even more expensive.  The total cost: $54,900,000 (1600 students) [NCEFAt this point one of the largest AB 394 egg layers  comes back to her nest.

“Moody’s Investors Services hasn’t downgraded the Clark County School District’s construction bond rating — yet.

But the credit rating firm late Monday issued a report warning a bill Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval recently signed that could lead to the breakup of the nation’s fifth-largest public school system “poses uncertainty” and “a credit negative” to the district’s ability to repay debt.”  [LVRJ]

Investors who buy bonds (lend public & private institutions money) want their money back + interest.  The greater the risk the higher the interest rate on the bonds.   The ratings agencies, no saints themselves as we witnessed during the financial sector collapse of 2007-2008, are in the business of telling investors how much risk is involved – the lower the rating the higher the risk, therefore the higher the interest rate demanded for the loan.

The Clark County School District currently has an A1 rating from Moody’s.  The outlook was “stable” as of February 17, 2015.   What has “de-stabilized” this projection is – AB 394 – which creates “uncertainty.” Without spending the usual $150 Moody’s charges for smaller reports, let’s guess the nature of that “uncertainty.”   The Clark County School District’s report on its financials assures bond holders:

“Maintenance of the current property tax rate will be sufficient through fiscal 2015 to retire the existing bonded debt since the District issued previous bonds based upon the factors of growth in assessed valuation in addition to increases in student population. The Capital Improvement Program provided authority to issue general obligation bonds until June 2008 and will be repaid from a fixed tax rate of 55.34 cents per $100 of net taxable property. [CCSD pdf

Translation: The Clark County School District – as it is currently functioning – has the financial capacity to retire (pay off) existing debt, and the ability to repay Capital Improvement bonds from its property tax base. A property tax base of the present 8,012 square miles comprising Clark County, which according to the Nevada Department of Taxation has a final assessed value (property) of $69,258,468,466.  A number large enough to assure investors in CCSD bonds that they’ll get their money plus interest, since the ad valorem revenue is calculated at $495,059,633 for the county.   We can use the old reliable Red Book to determine what the Clark County School district can expect from its share of the property tax revenue: $819,903, 015 from a total 2014-15 assessed valuation of $62,904,942,089.

By now it should be getting obvious why Moody’s is getting nervous.  Under the terms of AB 394, there must be a plan in place to chop up the school district by the 2018-2019 school year.  Thus, we’d have an advisory committee and a technical advisory committee contracting with a consultant for the grand purpose of carving up the district – but how?

If the notion is to create “neighborhood schools” then would we amalgamate current high school attendance zones? [map]  However, a quick look at the obvious north/south or east/west divisions compared to the assessed valuations of the areas involved quickly demonstrates that not all school districts would be “created equally.”

Perhaps the “Performance Zones” could be used as a basis?  Where do we put the rural schools, from Moapa Valley to Laughlin?  Again, how does the dissolution of the district help any of these financially?  

Unfortunately for those who would be new map makers, Clark County, like so many other major metropolitan areas is comprised of various zones – residential, industrial, and commercial.  As long as the financial foundation of a school district is based on property taxation, then we have to live with the fact that while upscale residential property comes with high tax bills, there isn’t all that much of it.    A district carved out of a major commercial zone with a rather smaller number of residential properties in that zone might have resources in abundance compared to an area of high residential properties – and therefore higher numbers of students, but a lower total assessed valuation.  Geography can often be a real pain in the derrière and in this instance it’s going to be.

At the risk of petulantly pounding the dais – there appear to be only 12 members of the Assembled Wisdom in the last session who understood the gravity of separating school districts within a diversified metropolitan area, one with an overall assessed valuation currently capable of keeping investors optimistic about bonding capacity and bond retirement.  The remaining 48 – not so much – maybe one more round of Econ. 101 is in order?

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Filed under Economy, education, Nevada economy, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, nevada taxation, Politics, Rural Nevada, Sandoval

The Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly

Nevada Legislature And Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom totters on:

“Remember what happened yesterday. Just after the Senate’s grandiose SB 252 floor vote, the Assembly devolved into pure “TEA” powered madness with constant recesses, shouting matches over those recesses, a floor fight over blatantly unconstitutional bill language, mind-numbing flip-flopping over outrageously discriminatory legislation, and an epic freakout over online sales tax. Are you scared yet? Ralston and others clearly are.” [LTN]

Why are we not surprised?  The bill now goes to the Assembly, in which the ideologically pure (sort of) and constitutionally correct (rarely) will have a whack at the funding for Governor Sandoval’s budget.

“The scariest prospect is that with a third of the session left, the biggest issue before the state has been left in the hands of a body populated by some GOP members who don’t understand policy, who don’t live on the same planet the rest of us do and who are the most embarrassing legislators the state has ever seen.” [Ralston/RGJ]

For those keeping score, Steve Sebelius provided a handy list of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the almost comprehensible measures before said Assembled Wisdom this season. It’s a handy reference.  … Which gets us to the Something For Nothing Crowd.

Consider this release from the Assembly Policy Committee, and its spokesperson Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Bundyville):

“With all due respect, much of the governor’s proposal is based on the mistaken idea that the way to fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.

“That said, the unemployment rate in Nevada remains, as Bill Anderson of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation put it last week, ‘stubbornly high’ at 7.1 percent.  As such, the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.

“Conservatives in the Nevada State Assembly cannot and will not support  SB252 as passed out of the Senate today.”

Let us Parse. First, nothing good ever happens after someone begins with “with all due respect.”  Thence to the heart of the matter – the old privatization refrain, which goes back to the 1874 Kalamazoo Case.

“Kalamazoo Union High School, which many believed to be a necessity for bridging the gap from common school to university, operated with some minor opposition, until 1873. In January of that year, three prominent Kalamazoo property owners filed a suit intended to prevent the school board from funding the high school with tax money. They argued that the 1859 state law had been violated when the high school was established without a vote of the taxpayers. Charles E. Stuart, a former United States Senator from Michigan, along with Theodore P. Sheldon and Henry Brees, initiated the suit. At the time, it was believed to be a “friendly” suit intended to settle the issue legally in favor of the school. However, Stuart’s comments to the Kalamazoo Board of Education years after the suit had been settled, suggest that he and his companions sincerely resented the tax burden that the public high school placed on them. Stuart, like many others of his time, believed that a common school education was sufficient for anyone, and anything beyond that should be paid for privately.” [KPL]

The School Board prevailed in the 1874 litigation, and thus we have public funding for education k-12. [MLive]  The fact that if a school board is charged with administering a k-12 system then it must have the funding to do so raises the second portion of the argument – the part concerning the level of that financial support.

Enter the Something For Nothing Crowd.  What else explains the phrase: “fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming…?” This statement assumes (1) the current level of funding is adequate, or perhaps less is necessary; (2) the schools are failing with the present level of funding and therefore no additional funding is desireable; and, (3) the system needs to be “fixed.”

None of these assumptions can be asserted without challenge.  The first problem is the general issue of the Disappearing Dollars often cited by conservatives. The notion of “pumping in” dollars infers that the dollars are a measure of educational support in themselves.  The concept is a great leap to a highly ideologically framed conclusion.  No. money doesn’t solve educational issues but it does purchase: The services of highly qualified personnel, specialists, aides and assistants, and administrators; school physical facilities, books, libraries, equipment, supplies, etc. 

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Something For Nothing Crowd is channeling the spirit of Charles E. Stuart from the 19th century – if a family wants a better education for their children they should pay for it themselves.  Witness: “dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.”   The translation is fairly simple.  School choice equates to a voucher system for attendance at private schools. and “far more schools” usually equates to the establishment of private charter operations.

We’ve touched on the rationales for this thinking before:

“The K-12 schools are “failing” and therefore we should augment the resources for privatization in the form of charter or private schools.  This contention is most often wrapped in “parental choice” camouflage covering.  That the proposed choice doesn’t exist in many rural communities, or that the proposed choice is extremely limited in urban ones, doesn’t enter into the discussion often enough.  Nor is it observed often enough that school voucher programs are a way to siphon off public funds for public schools and channel the money to private ones. [DB 2012]

In addition to the questionable rational for the conservative philosophy as it pertains to public education, there’s the problem of educational standards. What’s “failing?”

The most common measurement of “educational attainment” and the one most often cited by conservatives is standardized test scores.  Standardized testing has its uses.  However, placing them at the center of the argument is to risk overemphasizing their usefulness:

“We can stipulate that most tests manufactured for use in public schools by major publishing houses are statistically reliable and generally statistically valid. What we cannot say with any statistical certainty is whether or not we are measuring what we value in public education.” [DB 2011]

We appear “not to test well” and there may be some valid reasons for that, such as the generally low salaries for teachers, “Teacher salaries have a huge impact when it comes to attracting good instructors. The innovative, smart, highly skilled people you want teaching your kids aren’t exactly in love with the idea of making $38,000 per year (the average for first-year high school teachers) when they could go somewhere else and earn more while doing less.” [ABC]

Or perhaps we should place greater emphasis on early childhood education: “

The OECD found in a separate study that 15-year-olds who had attended at least a year of preschool performed better on reading tests than kids who had not, even when socioeconomic factors were taken into account.  The U.S. spends more on preschool than other countries but money doesn’t do any good unless kids are enrolled, and the U.S. lags on that measure.” [ABC]

The ASCD offers an enlightening summation:

“For several important reasons, standardized achievement tests should not be used to judge the quality of education. The overarching reason that students’ scores on these tests do not provide an accurate index of educational effectiveness is that any inference about educational quality made on the basis of students’ standardized achievement test performances is apt to be invalid.

Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is. Standardized achievement tests should be used to make the comparative interpretations that they were intended to provide. They should not be used to judge educational quality.”

Even if we do apply standardized test score to measure “temperature with a tablespoon” there’s no guarantee that the privatized or charter schools will achieve better results.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at test data from charter schools in 26 states and the District and found that 25 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools in reading while 29 percent of charters delivered stronger results in math. That marked an improvement over a similar 2009 study by the same research team.

But 56 percent of the charters produced no significant difference in reading and 19 percent had worse results than traditional public schools. In math, 40 percent produced no significant difference and 31 percent were significantly worse than regular public schools. [WaPo]

So, we have the Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly decrying the essence of the Governor’s budget for education with all the old clichés from time gone by, and the tautological statement that if an underfunded school is failing the way to make it better is to further cut its funding.

We can only hope that after the tempers, the tantrums, the protestations, the gnashing of teeth, and the rending of cloth the membership of the Nevada Assembly will manage some form of civility and citizenship, and recognize another time honored statement – You Get What You Pay For.

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Filed under education, nevada education, nevada taxation, Sandoval

Sandoval’s Session: GCSB Menu — To Serve Man?

To Serve ManNevada’s economic plan — hold another conference? There’s nothing like a lovely conference to get the juices flowing in regard to economic development.  Not that there’s anything essentially unproductive about getting small business leaders in the same room with government officials and inspiring speakers…but.   The Governor’s office and the Chamber are teaming up to present panels on “Access to Capital, Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce and Healthcare: Myths and Facts.” [NV2013]

The “grand sponsor” of the event is NV Energy.  Other sponsors include Heritage Bank, AT&T, Advantage Capital Partners, and IQ Technology Solutions.   [NV2013]

Skeptics may wonder what AT&T, whose petition to the FCC in 2013 is straight out the of ALEC model plans book, [HuffPo] wants to say to small business owners and managers in Nevada, other than to promote the idea that they should continue to utilize their old copper wires to offer U-Verse services over their system without all basic obligations and regulations on the state and federal level.  We might wonder about AT&T’s grand plans for broadband access for small businesses when these observations come to light:

“In 2009, AT&T’s started the federal ball rolling with comments outlining that the states should not have jurisdiction over broadband and it should be the exclusive purview of the FCC — read federal law. Moreover, regulations should be removed on virtually all aspects of their business that would be applied by either the FCC or the commission — including removing service quality requirements.”  [HuffPo]  (Emphasis added)

NV Energy is the self-same corporation purchased by Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy Corp. for $5.6 billion this past May. [USAT] This would also be the self-same energy corporation looking for a rate increase:

“NV Energy’s residential power and natural gas customers would see rate increases starting in January under the utility’s three-year general rate case filed Monday with the state Public Utilities Commission.

The increases, which include a profit and must be approved by regulators, would add $1.48 per month to the average single-family residence power bill across Northern Nevada and $3.96 to the typical monthly bill for natural gas customers in Reno-Sparks. Commercial customers in Northern Nevada would see an average 2.81 percent decline in electricity rates under the filing.”  [RGJ] (June 4, 2013)

Thus far we have one corporate sponsor that wants to “transition” its communications services without making any real technological progress, and desires to do so without state “interference” or those “burdensome regulations” on quality of service; and, another that has a rate increase proposal before the PUC.  What could possibly get skewed?

Heritage Bank is pleased to tell one and all that it is the Number One processor of SBA 504 loans in northern Nevada:

Heritage Bank of Nevada has been named the #1 SBA lender for 2012 in Northern Nevada as the largest processor of SBA 504 loans.  In FY2012, Heritage Bank partnered with Nevada State Development Corp. to provide funding on 15 projects totaling $22,014,750. Heritage Bank’s portion of the loans totaled $9,812,788 and the SBA’s 504 loans totaled $8,179,000. [Heritage Bank]

SBA 504 loans are made to business owners for purchasing or refinancing commercial real estate.  As of January 2013, Heritage Bank had lent out funding for 15 small business projects totaling $22 million, with 90% of the funds for commercial real estate loans.  [RGJ]

A firm is eligible for a SBA 504 loan if it has a tangible net worth less than $15 million and an average net income less than $5.0 million after taxes for the preceding two years. [SBA]  It’s safe to say that most of Nevada’s small businesses would be eligible for these loans.

Grinding down a bit on the SBA 504’s:  A Certified Development Company (CDC) is a nonprofit corporation set up to contribute to the economic development of its community. CDCs are located nationwide and operate primarily in their state of incorporation (Area of Operation). CDCs work with SBA and private-sector lenders to provide financing to small businesses through the CDC/504 Loan Program, which provides growing businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings. [SBA-CDC]

The typical SBA 504 CDC has the following components:

  • A loan secured from a private sector lender with a senior lien covering up to 50 percent of the project cost;
  • A loan secured from a CDC (backed by a 100 percent SBA-guaranteed debenture) with a junior lien covering up to 40 percent of the total cost;
  • A contribution from the borrower of at least 10 percent equity.

So, a “project” would get its real estate, or equipment, loan in blocks —  50% from the lender/bank ; 40% from a CDC; and, a contribution of 10% equity.

What we’re not seeing in the Heritage Bank numbers are  7 a loans, those made to entrepreneurs and business persons who are launching start ups, or expanding businesses.  The 7a, or general business loans are the kind we’d most often associate with the start up, financing, or expansion of new businesses.

Between October 2012 and May 2013, the major players in the 7(a) program were Wells Fargo, Meadows Bank, Seacoast Commerce, Republic Bank, Hanmi Bank, U.S. Bank NA, Pacific Enterprise Bank, and further down the list, Heritage Bank with five 7 (a) loans out for a bank total of $1,170,000.  [SBA lenders]

If Heritage is seeking to inform more small business owners and managers of the availability of SBA 7 (a) loans that would be an excellent panel. However, if financing in Nevada is getting increasingly sucked into the “income generating property” business there are some questions which need to be raised.  How much money is getting resourced to real estate development firms seeking to buy up distressed property and make conversions to rental units?  Would a subsidiary of one of the Really Big Banks qualify as a business eligible for 504 loans?

Advantage Capital Partners is another of the highlighted sponsors of the Governor’s economic gathering.   The firm describes itself:

“Since 1992, we have raised more than $1.6 billion in institutional capital, often involving innovative structured financing solutions. Our capital has been provided by a large number of the nation’s leading insurance companies and commercial banks.”  [ACP]

Excuse me, but after the Debacle of 2007-2008, when I see phrases like “innovative structured financing solutions” my immediate reaction is to curl into a fiscal fetal position.  Why?  The very definition of structured finance is enough to bring on tremors:

A service that generally involves highly complex financial transactions offered by many large financial institutions for companies with very unique financing needs. These financing needs usually don’t match conventional financial products such as a loan. [Investopedia]

And what might be included in those “highly complex financial transactions?”   Some of our old and not-so-dear friends like: Collateralized Bond Obligations, Collateralized Debt Obligations, syndicated loans, and those wonderful Synthetic CDO’s etc.  I think we’ve seen this movie before, and the ending was — if not pleasant — at least memorable.

And, who’s paddling in these waters? “Our capital has been provided by a large number of the nation’s leading insurance companies and commercial banks.”  — What could possibly go wrong?

To Serve Man

On August 28, 2013 the Governor and the attendees of the GCSB conference will be under the Grand Sierra roof with (1) a communications firm that wants ever so much to be rid of pesky government regulations concerning customer service, (2) bankers who are delighted to offer SBA backed loans for real estate transactions, (3) a “high” finance firm still promoting the joys and profitability of synthetic CDO’s and other financial exotics that contributed to the Great Mortgage Meltdown, and an Energy corporation looking to increase its rates …

It could indeed be a menu To Serve Man.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Sandoval

Loaded Language and Other Matters

two centsHere we go again. This time in Nevada, and this time in regard to the expansion of background checks for private gun sales.   The “gun enthusiasts” are pummeling the Governor’s office with vehement Veto It messages — what else is new? [LasVegasSun]  The Nevada Progressive has been following the course of SB 221 and reports that Governor Sandoval has categorized the bill as “overly broad.”

What might “overly broad” mean?  Here’s yet another reminder that we have only a few classes of individuals who are prohibited from gun ownership in this state — felons, fugitives, dangerously mentally ill, children, undocumented aliens,  and a few who are temporarily  restricted as a result of spousal abuse incidents.   Is the Governor contending that restricting individuals in these classes constitutes an “overly broad” definition of prohibited purchasers in private sales over the Internet or at gun shows?

Senator Heller (R-American Bankers Association) has started to file his amendments to the Senate version of the Immigration Reform bill — The Ralston Report has his initial venture.   Senator Rand “Aqua Buddha” Paul (R-Tea Party Patio) has his own idea about amendments to the bill, such as one to make it all but impossible to declare the borders secure enough to allow immigration reform measures.  [WaPo]  It seems as though immigration reform opponents won’t be satisfied until the U.S. Border Patrol adopts the infrastructure and personnel policies of the old East German regime?

Meanwhile, Senator Schumer (D-NY) has declared an amendment to the bill by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) a “non-starter” and declines any suggestion that the majority would want to negotiate with the Texas Senator. [TPM]

Another Republican Ladies Day Moment:  Pregnancy as the result of rape shouldn’t be a consideration because it’s really rare… Or, in the words of Arizona Representative Trent Franks:

“Before, when my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject — because, you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” Franks said.

Franks continued: “But when you make that exception, there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that’s what completely negates and vitiates the purpose for such an amendment.”  [WaPo]

What should be negated and vitiated is the troglodyte perspective of throwbacks like Representative Franks?  A bit more at Think Progress. Another day, another splendid example of Republican Outreach to women and ethnic minorities.  Click over to Perrspectives for a lively column on how “Arrested Development” explains today’s GOP.

Representative Franks isn’t the only one channeling his Inner Akin, the Governor of Wisconsin would like to enact requirements for transvaginal ultrasounds and to shut down Wisconsin’s health providers who offer abortion services. [Think Progress] The link back includes this bit of information about the progress of the Wisconsin bill:

Senate debate of the ultrasound proposal came a week after Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, introduced it.

“Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, said that gave her less than 24 hours to analyze the bill and prepare her testimony for hearings.

“This speed of passage sends a clear signal that these legislators want to deny any efforts to ensure due process and are refusing to allow sufficient time for medical providers, advocates, women and their partners to truly weigh in on the anticipated damaging effects of this legislation.” Finger said in a statement.” [Twin Cities]

Yes, most anti-abortion bills do tend to move quickly in GOP controlled legislatures.   See also: Ed Kilgore’s post “Back to the Poisoned Well.”

Under-reported:  With all the press attending to the “surprise” revelation that the NSA collects phone numbers, duration of calls, and destinations … is Anyone Really Surprised? — an unheralded report from HUD is receiving scant attention:

Earlier this year, we highlighted how the racial wealth gap tripled from 1984-2009, mainly due to structural barriers to wealth accumulation for households of color, including rampant housing discrimination that constrained where African-American families could live and restricted access to affordable home loans. A new report from HUD shows the extent of housing discrimination against people of color. The report found that people of color looking for homes are told about and shown fewer homes and apartments than their white counterparts. This type of discrimination raises the costs of the housing search for people of color and restricts their housing options.  [Demos Policy]

This wasn’t really all that surprising either.

Why DB hasn’t discussed the NSA flap?  I will when I stop yawning.  Congress approved the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and the Protect America Act of 2007 — Mr. Snowden’s scenery chewing performance notwithstanding, he simply “revealed” the authorized programs exist. Did anyone think they wouldn’t?

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Filed under Gun Issues, Immigration, Sandoval, Women's Issues

Round Up

Wondering about the level of taxation in Nevada?  The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council says “We’re Number Three!” (Nationally) for being all sweet and cuddly for businesses disinclined to pay taxes. [NNB] But, we are going to collect sales taxes from Amazon.com for Nevada customers. [NNB] And, all this while Governor Sandoval tells us we don’t need any more taxes since the last batch has been extended. [NNB] So, we don’t have enough taxation to make business owners and corporations howl — and we don’t need any more business taxes — but we’ll happily collect more sales taxes (which obviously have a greater impact on those with lower incomes) on online purchases from the Big A…  The Lesson: It’s Only A Tax Increase If A Special Interest Has To Pay It?

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Washoe County, Nevada is still getting some backwash from the Housing Bubble Debacle.  Short-sales are up, wherein mortgage lenders agree to sell a piece of real estate for less than what is owed.  “In Reno, short sales have been accounting for about a third of all sales in the past couple of years, according to the Greater Reno-Tahoe Real Estate Report. Short sales accounted for 116 units sold in March — 31 percent of all home sales in the area. Foreclosures posted 123 unit sales during the same period, which was 34 percent of inventory sold.”  [RGJ]   Meanwhile, back with those Wonderful People Who Brought On The Housing Bubble With Their Insatiable Appetite For MORE Mortgages —

“In case their (derivatives traders/bankers)  lobbying falls short, the industry — largely dealer banks and commodities firms — has been pushing legislation that would pre-empt the rulemaking process and tie the agencies’ hands. So far, no fewer than 10 such derivatives bills have been introduced in the House; two have passed and several more have cleared committee.

Not satisfied with that, influential lawmakers have been not so subtly warning regulators to go easy on derivatives. This is incredibly intimidating: Congress controls the agencies’ budgets, and the increase in workload mandated by Dodd-Frank leaves them woefully short on funds.

And should a derivatives rule unpalatable to the dealers somehow survive this Beltway obstacle course, the agencies face an explicit threat of a lawsuit. This has had a chilling effect. As Bart Chilton, a CFTC commissioner, told me, regulators fear there is “litigation lurking around every corner and down every hallway.”  [Lowenstein, Bloomberg]

Thus we have bankers, who having been bailed out once, have now decided that there is NO reason for any sentient human being to advocate regulation of their shadow system and their “private placement” activities — which got us into this Mess in the first place.  The only good news is that we may have found the bottom of this market. [Bloomberg]

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The bottom of the housing market may be upon us, but the litigation lingers on.   A judge has denied AIG’s motion in the Bank of America settlement. [Reuters] A federal judge denied Bank of New York Mellon’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by investors over the bank’s role as a trustee more mortgage backed securities  in the mess made by Countrywide.  [Reuters]

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Maybe the Republicans do have a “health care” plan?

Health care would be “addressed” by disabling the implementation of ObamaCare, which Mitt Romney has repeatedly said he’d do on his first day in office. Even if you believe Romney and other Republicans actually have their own agenda of “health reform,” it’s mostly just a matter of replacing today’s health care deduction for employers with a tax credit for individuals, and then passing one bill allowing interstate insurance sales; the “market” (i.e., the rush of insurers to states with little or no regulation) will take care of the rest, and besides, it’s not the federal government’s job to make sure everyone has health insurance, right? [WashMon]

Yes, and with the rush to those states with little or no restraint on health insurance corporations we can reasonably expect that those corporations will not provide insurance to individuals with pre-existing conditions, not include vaccinations under basic policies, not include wellness screening for prostate, breast, or other cancers, and not include tax breaks for small businesses which provide health care plans for their employees.  It’s the Bush System on Steriods.

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Some cheese with that whine?  Presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s saying Life’s Unfair!

“This America is fundamentally fair,” he said. “We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next.”  [TPM]

Translation:  We will provide vouchers for parents to subsidize private schooling for their children.  We will stop assisting manufacturing companies with research and development.  We will attack trade unions.  We will further slash pay for government employees.  We will give tax breaks to the 1% and impose austerity on the remaining 99%.  There’s a good piece about privatizing education here.   H/T to Nevada State Employee Focus, there’s another excellent article on the attacks on public employees here.

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Speaking from friends in interesting places: The Soap Opera that’s become the Nevada Republican Party continues apace, and to read the gruesome details click over to The Nevada Progressive.

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More dispatches from the War On Women in the Sin City Siren.   Meanwhile anti-abortion activists are urging a “personhood bill” for the state of Oklahoma, the New Hampshire Senate has 6 abortion bills on its agenda, and a move to defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio is on temporary hold, but could reappear at any time.   More restrictive bills are in process in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Iowa.

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Political items worth the click and read:  “The Koch Brothers Exposed,” Rolling Stone.   “Mitt Romney’s Attack Dog,” (Larry McCarthy negative ad guru), New Yorker 2/2012. “Don’t Let Business Lobbyists Kill The Post Office,” Rolling Stone.   “Campaign Tips from Cicero,” Foreign Affairs.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Health Care, Heath Insurance, housing, Politics, Sandoval, Taxation, Union busting, unions, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights