Nevada Ballot Questions 2016: The Marijuana Initiative

Marijuana revenue Thus far two ballot questions in the 2016 general election have reached the qualifying status to be assigned numbers by the Secretary of State’s Office. [RGJ]  This means that they have achieved at least 55,234 valid signatures from registered Nevada voters, including at least 13,809 signatures from each of the four petition districts. (pdf )

The initiative to regulate and tax marijuana (Question 1) (pdf) isn’t quite a Fun for All blanket permission slip.  Marijuana may only be purchased from a licensed business; business owners are subject to state review confirming the business owners and business location are suitable; cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transporting, and selling marijuana is to be controlled by state licensing and regulation; selling or supplying marijuana to someone under 21 years of age remains illegal; and, individuals will have to be 21 or older to purchase marijuana. Additionally, driving under the influence remains illegal, and all marijuana sold in the state must be tested and labeled. If this sounds similar to the restrictions on the sale of alcohol, that’s because it is.   And, if this sounds like Nevada wants to emulate the statutes in Colorado, you’re probably right.  The revenue numbers for last October in Colorado were impressive:

“There are three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax, a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. For August, Colorado collected $11.2 million in recreational taxes and fees and $2.0 million in medical taxes and fees, bringing the 2015 cumulative revenue total to nearly $86.7 million. In 2014, total marijuana revenue was $76.2 million.” [DenverPost]

Total taxes, licenses, and fees for Colorado were $61,372,376 in FY 2014-2015, increasing to $97,741,988 in FY 2015-2016. [CO rev dwnld]

Nevada would collect a marijuana excise tax (15%) in addition to sales taxes, and use taxes that apply to retail sales of tangible property. Tax revenues are to be used to pay for administration and regulation (state and local) with the excess remitted to the State Treasurer to be deposited in the State Distributive School Account.  There is a one time application fee of $5,000, an initial license fee of $20,000 and renewal fee of $6,600. Cultivation facilities would pay $30,000 for an initial license and $10,000 for renewal.  Other fees are listed in Section 12 (fee schedule) (pdf) of the initiative.  There’s nothing cheap or easy about setting up cultivation, transport, or sales of marijuana in this ballot initiative.  Before getting too enthusiastic about immediate effects and potential revenue, it’s probably time for a reminder that Nevada really doesn’t have statutory direct initiative:

“Citizens of Nevada may initiate statutes through the process of indirect initiative and constitutional amendments through the process of direct initiative. Once sufficient signatures have been collected, statutory initiatives are first presented to the Nevada State Legislature. If approved by the legislature and signed by the Governor, the proposed statute becomes law. If not, the law is submitted to voters at the next general election. However, upon the Governor’s recommendation (and approval), the legislature may propose an alternative statute to voters. Proposed amendments proceed directly to a vote of the people, but must be approved at two consecutive elections.” [Ballotpd]

This initiative is interesting not only as a revenue enhancement project for a state strapped by Constitutional prohibitions on income taxation, but also as something of a “reverse” wedge issue. Fiscal conservatives may find it an acceptable alternative to increases in business, sales, or property taxation.   Social conservatives may see in it the harbinger of doom, gloom, and social degeneration.   It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the 2016 Nevada general election.

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Filed under Nevada economy, Nevada news, Nevada politics, nevada taxation

They’re Back! Ladies vie for Official Nevada Embarrassment Title

Angle 2016

Just in time for political silly season in Nevada! Sharron Angle, Our Lady of Perpetual Campaigning, is pleased to tell one and all in 8 minutes and 41 seconds, how she’d be a great candidate for Nevada’s U.S. Senate seat.

Perhaps we can get a repeat performance of some of Angle’s classics:

“You know what I’m talking about. You’re paying for things that you don’t even need. They just passed the latest one, is everything that they want to throw at us now is covered under ‘autism.’ So, that’s a mandate that you have to pay for. How about maternity leave? I’m not going to have any more babies, but I sure get to pay for it on my insurance. Those are the kinds of things that we want to get rid of.” –Sharron Angle, mocking the notion that health care coverage for autism treatment and maternity leave should be mandated, 2009 Tea Party rally”  [Phumor]

Or this:

They [Republicans] say, ‘You’re too conservative.’ Was Thomas Jefferson too conservative? I’m tired of some people calling me wacky.” –Sharron Angle, March 21, 2010”  [Phumor]  Maybe if she’d stop saying wacky things people might not comment on it?

Fiore Mag

If this isn’t enough fun – welcome back Michele Fiore, the Bundy Babe from southern Nevada.  There’s always her classic comment about guns on campus: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them,” she told the New York Times. “The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.” [WaPo]  Nice, for a candidate from Congressional District 3? [h/t Crooks and Liars]

Who’s the best qualified as the Official Embarrassment of the Silver State?

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Filed under Angle, Gun Issues, Nevada news, Nevada politics

Concerned Veterans, Unconcerned Big Money, and the 2016 Nevada Senate Race

Hurricane There’s a warning flag up for Democrats in the 2016 elections – where are the Big Money Republicans putting their money?

“Among those on the sidelines: Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting at his Venetian hotel this weekend. His apparent ambivalence about 2016 was shared by many RJC members here. With grave doubts about the viability of the few remaining Republican contenders, many of these Republican donors have decided to sit out the rest of the primary entirely. And while some are reluctantly getting behind a remaining candidate, others are shifting their attention to congressional contests.” [Politico]

Notice that last phrase: “…others are shifting their attention to congressional contests. Nevada voters have already been treated to at least one major advertising belch from the Koch Brothers – the saccharine introductory ad for Republican Joe Heck (Nevada Senate race).  There it was on the TV screen, all $700,000 worth of it:

“The ad is paid for by Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative-leaning organization that advocates for reforms for veterans across the country and is part of the network of organizations affiliated with conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.” [LVSun

First, I’m always a bit “concerned” when I see “concerned” in the title of any organization, like Phyllis Schlafly’s “Concerned women…” and secondly, it doesn’t take more than a couple of clicks to find out that Concerned Veterans for America is a 501(c)4 outfit funded by “Vets for Economic Freedom,” which in turn is funded by the Koch Brothers. [SourceW]  So, the Koch brothers have already decided that the Nevada Senate race is more interesting than the candidacy of either Donald Trump, or Seven Mountain Dominionist Ted Cruz, at least as the early stages of the Nevada senate race are concerned.

Another cause for “concern” is that the advertising so far from the Koch boys in Nevada aligns nicely with the radical libertarian agenda of the Kochs.   Heck is pleased to take credit for backing H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which passed the House with bi-partisan support. However, he’s also supported by those who believe, “The VA is a glaring example of what happens when government bureaucrats create unnecessary obstacles to accessing quality health care.”  This moves us from the H.R. 3230 territory and into the realm of H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act of 2015, in which the Republicans would have us fire our way into excellence.  Witness section two:

Section 2: The VA may also remove an individual from the civil service or demote the individual through a reduction in grade or annual pay rate.

A demoted individual: (1) shall be paid at the demoted rate as of the date of demotion, (2) may not be placed on administrative leave or any other category of paid leave while an appeal is ongoing, and (3) may only receive pay and other benefits if the individual reports for duty.

The VA shall notify Congress of, and the reason for, any removal or demotion.

An employee shall have the right to an appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board within seven days of removal or demotion. If an administrative judge does not make a final decision within 45 days the original decision becomes final. The Board or an administrative judge may not stay any removal or demotion.

Between the date on which an individual appeals a removal from the civil service and the date on which the administrative judge issues a final decision on the appeal, the individual may not receive any pay, awards, bonuses, incentives, allowances, differentials, student loan repayments, special payments, or benefits.

It isn’t quite accurate to say that this latest Republican version is a fire at will piece, but notice that the MSPB must make a decision in favor of the employee within 45 days – or the dismissal or demotion stands and cannot be taken to court.  There are a couple of things wrong with this picture.

First, the dismissal or demotion of every other member of the Federal civil service is subject to an appeal to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals, or to a U.S. District Court in cases of unlawful discrimination. [mspb]  H.R. 1994 obviously obliterates this.  Given underlying lack of due process in H.R. 1994 it’s intent has less to do with “accountability” and more to do with a frontal assault on the Civil Service rules of the Federal government.

Secondly, it’s a set up.  If one wants to argue that the Federal government is incapable of handling “business,” then one of the easiest ways to make that allegation stick is to (1) underfund the agency, (2) add more work to the agency’s brief, and (3) complain loudly when the agency can’t keep up.  Then, (4) propose privatization or “reforms” which please the economic elite.   H.R. 1994 meets all these tests when it comes to the appeals process for civil employees.

The MSPB is already underfunded, and if trends continue it will have about the same resources for FY 2016 as it had back in FY 2013.  This, when furlough appeals caused by the sequestration led to an increase of 525% in the number of appeals filed. [mspb pdf]

The MSPB has a case load of about 5,000 to which we add another 32,000 furlough cases on appeal – and is expected to decrease the backlog with fewer resources than it had before sequestration. [FedRad]  Under the current statutes the MSPB has 120 days, and one administrator summed up the practical problems:

“…however, there will be some issues. Under current federal statute, MSPB has 120 days to adjudicate a case, meaning the agency will have to issue VA rulings 83 percent faster than it currently does. The discovery period alone — when agency officials and employees gather and share evidence with each other — typically takes 25 to 45 days. In the new, VA-specific system, it will last just 10 days, Grundmann said.” [govexec]

When the Merit System Protection Board arrived in the wake of the 1883 Pendleton Act, moving civil service from the Spoils System to a more professional basis, the intent was to prevent arbitrary and capricious firings made for political convenience and profit.   The current Republican formula for the Veterans Administration employees undercuts this intention.  Underfund, overload, and then cry “reform,” simply insures that no employee will get his or her day in court.  That, in itself, is a denial of due process.  What could be more to the liking of the Koch Brothers and their associates than denying due process to Federal employees.

And, what could be more “Kochian” than to advertise one’s support for veterans while using the Veterans Administration as the whipping boy for mismanagement (however much it may be deserving in some cases) and as the vehicle by which dismantling the civil service may be accomplished?

Representative Heck seems pleased to accept the assistance of the Koch Brothers and their operatives and dark money groups.  Is he equally pleased to be the candidate for the advancement of their privatization agendas?

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Break Up The Bank Bandwagon, or how to be unhelpful?

Break Up Big Banks bandwagon  Much of the debate on the Democratic Party side of the primary silly season is related to Wall Street – easy to demonize, more difficult to understand, and altogether more complicated than  sound-byte sized portions of political coverage will allow.  In other words, H.L. Mencken was probably right: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Let’s start with the proposition that our economic issues can be resolved by breaking up the large banks.

Yes, 2007-2008 still stings. The Wall Street Casino that created financial market chaos was especially harmful in Nevada, one of the “sand states” in which the real estate bubble was augmented by avarice and the Wall Street appetite for securitization of highly questionable mortgage lending products, and practices.  Certainly, the call to break up the big banks resonates with a significant portion of the national as well as the Nevada population.   However, this “clear and simple” solution may not be the panacea on anybody’s  horizon.  Here’s why:

From a consumer’s prospective, big is not always “badder.”  I, for one, like the idea that my debit card is accepted in convenient locations throughout the country.  I’m technologically challenged so I don’t avail myself of many advances in remote deposits, and other mobile banking services, but I sympathize with those who do.  I also like making my primary banking decisions for myself, and I’m not – as a consumer/customer – particularly happy about the prospect of being dropped by my bank because it is “too big”, i.e. it has too many customers.   And, here we come to a second issue.

How do we define “big” and “too big?”  If we are defining “big” in terms of the amount of deposits then JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and USBankcorp  (the top five in total deposits) are targets for the break up.  Thus, if we “break up” any or all of these five based on the “size” – either the total assets or the total value of deposits – then how many customers must deal with the transition costs of moving their bank accounts?

Do we mean breaking up as in reinstituting the old Glass Steagall Act, and separating commercial and investment banking?  This action wouldn’t limit the banks based on assets or deposit values, but instead would constrict their banking activities.  This has some appeal, perhaps more so than just whacking up banks based on the size of their assets and deposits, but this, too, opens some questions.

One set of questions revolve around what we mean by “banking services?”  For example, if a person has an account with Fidelity investments, and one of the services associated with that account is a debit card or a credit card, then does this constitute a “bank-like” service?   There are banks offering brokerage accounts, and insurance services – reinstating the provisions of Glass Steagall would mean a customer would have to give up some services to retain others – or perhaps be dropped as the financial institution made its decision as to the camp it was joining – the commercial or the investment one.  If a person likes the idea of consolidating investment and commercial services, and doesn’t – for one example – have much if any need for things like certified checks, then an investment account with some “bank like” services could be the best option. For others, who like the idea of a “life-line” bank and the notion that some other ancillary services may come with it, then the traditional route would be more enticing.  However much a person may like the sound of “bring back Glass Steagall” there are situations in which this would mean some significant inconvenience and costs for customers and clients.

Another point which ought to be made is that all too often Glass Steagall and the Volcker Rule get mashed together as if they meant the same thing, or something close to it.   Let’s assume for the sake of this piece that what we all really want is a banking system which does not turn deceptive practices into major revenue streams, and which doesn’t allow banks to use deposits to play in the Wall Street Casino.

If this is the case, then it might well do to let the Dodd Frank Act have a chance at more success.  For all the political palaver about this 2010 act, it has been successful.  As Seeking Alpha explains:

“Dodd-Frank did several things that promoted the culture change and reduced the likelihood that a large American bank will fail: (1) annual stress tests that forced a focus on risk management not only among risk managers but at every level of the bank; (2) establishment of the Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB), which has primary responsibility for consumer protection in the financial field without the conflicts of interests naturally experience by the banking regulators; (3) the Volcker Rule that removed proprietary trading from bank holding companies, thereby facilitating the cultural reform that I referred to above, and reducing the level of risk in banks’ assets; (4) enhanced capital requirements for large banks, which addressed the major weakness that permitted mortgage losses to turn into a financial debacle in 2008; and (5) living will requirements for large banks, which while perhaps unnecessary, are having the salutary effects of increasing liquidity in stressful situations and decreasing organizational complexity and thereby making big banks more possible to manage.”

In short, if the object is to make banks safer, better managed, and less likely to get themselves into the liquidity swamps of the pre-Dodd Frank era, then the act does, in fact, make the grade.   Those who would like a return to the bad old days, when banks could wheel, deal, and deceive, will find solace in the slogans of many Republican politicians calling for the repeal of the Dodd Frank Act.

Yet another set of questions relate to what breaking up the banks is supposed to accomplish; or to accomplish beyond Dodd Frank.  It’s easy to say that if a bank is too big to fail it is too big to exist. However, we still haven’t dealt with exactly what it means to be “too big.”  Like it or not, we do have a global economy.   Let’s take one example: “Global businesses want global banks. This makes intuitive sense for companies that manufacture, distribute, and sell products globally. 3M, for example, derives a majority of its sales from outside the United States, operates in more than 70 different countries, and sells products in over 200 countries.” [Brookings]

What does 3M do? Operate through a system of regional banks? (and increase costs)  Or, does 3m start using a foreign bank?  What does this do to American market share in global banking? And, we’re not just talking about 3m, what about Intel (82.4% sales overseas), Apple (62.3% sales overseas), General Electric (about 52% sales overseas in Africa, Asia, and Europe), Boeing (58.3% sales overseas), and Johnson & Johnson (53.2% sales in Europe)?  [AmMUSAToday]

At the risk of sounding too nuanced for blog posts of a political bent, I’d offer that the Break Up The Banks bandwagon has been on the road long enough, and has been a distraction from issues that have cost the American middle class (and those trying to achieve that level of financial security) dearly in the last 40 years.

Breaking up the big banks will not assist in the organization of American workers so that the power of the owners is balanced by the power of the workers.   What we DO need are government policies which support the unionization of employees. Policies which increase the minimum wage. Policies which improve wages and working conditions. And, policies which make education and training affordable.

Breaking up the big banks will not assist in establishing fair trade with the rest of the world. What we DO need are policies which promote the interests of American manufacturing, by American workers, in American plants.  We need policies which affirm our support for environmental responsibility.  We need policies implemented which promote modern technology and modern energy sources; with American ingenuity and labor.

Breaking up the big banks will not reform a financial system which too often rewards its components for short term gambling as contrasted with long term financial vision.  It will not replace the transformed and corrupted Shareholder Theory of Value among managers.  What we DO need is a system which rewards investment and replaces the fantasy of “Trickle Down” economics.

Perhaps it’s time to find a new bandwagon?  One that’s going in the desired direction, and not merely headed toward a successful election day performance?

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Filed under banking, Economy, financial regulation

The Manufactured Martyrs: Nevada’s Bundyland Bunch

Bundy 2

There are specious arguments, and then there are those which are just downright hysterical. Hysterically funny or screaming tantrums hysterical;  the defense of the Bundy Bunch looks to fit into both those categories.

Cliven Bundy wants to be released from Federal custody because the government is holding him as a Political Prisoner?  At least according to attorney Joel Hansen:

“The government seems to be afraid that it might lose in a jury trial, so it wants to keep him in prison, in solitary confinement, as long as it can because he, like Nelson Mandela, is a political prisoner,” Hansen wrote. “There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution allowing the federal government to hold political prisoners without a trial. Nothing.” [LVRJ]

For those unfamiliar with the right wing of Nevada’s right wing politics, Joel Hansen is part of the Hansen Family Party, aka the Independent American Party which boasts 70,323 registered voters in Nevada, making it the third largest party in the state. The numbers sound impressive until it’s noted that there are 585,890 registered Democrats and 493,612 registered Republicans; and, 295,319 registered as non-partisan. [NV SoS]  As recently as 2002 the Hansen family was the heart of the IAP in Nevada, and members were running for all manner of offices – some inviting controversy with then Secretary of State Dean Heller by not filing campaign financial reports with his office. [LVSun]

So, where does Joel Hansen find the justification for comparing failing rancher Cliven Bundy with international hero Mandela?  We can start with the IAP Platform:

“We believe that to maintain freedom, our political institutions must be founded upon faith in God and upon moral laws and principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution for the United States, the Bill of Rights, and the Holy Scriptures.  We believe that the function of government is to protect life, liberty, property, and the fundamental and God-given rights of the people, and that anything more than this is usurpation and oppression.” [IAP

And they do mean Anything, including the management of federal land and properties.

We oppose intrusion of the federal government in areas that rightfully belong to the states.  We favor abolishing federal control of all lands, except for necessary forts, military bases, post offices, etc., as enumerated in, but limited by, the Constitution.  We support the return to the states of all lands unconstitutionally seized, acquired or controlled by the federal government (10th Amendment), and those taken unconstitutionally as “required” for that state to join the Union. [IAP]

Indeed, manufacturing martyrs requires believing that federal management of federal facilities, and federal lands, constitutes “usurpation and oppression.”

Further, the Hansen-Bundy philosophy requires looping into the realm of a fantasy in which the armed resistance to BLM operations, and the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge meets the definition of a “peaceful protest.”  Additionally, it’s still a peaceful protest even if it was originally estimated to cost $3.3 million to clean up the mess made at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, and then the estimate increased to approximately $6 million by March 23, 2016. [OregonLive]  Evidently, abandoned homes, compromised bank accounts, and death threats to workers at the Malheur Refuge were part of a “peaceful protest?” [OregonLive]

Cliven Bundy’s problems, however, stem not from the Malheur assault and occupation – that bundle falls to his offspring — but from his response to BLM attempts to enforce federal regulations on lands it is tasked to manage near Bunkerville, NV.

“Bundy faces 16 felony counts, including extortion, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer and using and carrying a firearm in a crime of violence.

Bundy and 18 others — including four of his sons, Ammon, Ryan, Melvyn and David — were charged in a new federal indictment in Las Vegas last week in connection with the April 12, 2014, Bunkerville showdown.” [LVRJ]

Bundy Armed

Photos from the Bunkerville “peaceful protest” don’t seem to argue for an interpretation of a  non-violent approach to discussing issues of cattle operations with the Bureau of Land Management.

 

Hansen and his client have a bit of a problem trying to turn the actions at Bunkerville into Bunker Hill.  Either the demonstrations at the site were peaceful, and none of the armed gunmen actually intended to fire their weapons, or it was a exemplar of armed resistance to the Federal oppressors and usurpers – at which time it’s no longer a “peaceful protest,” and that part about “obstruction of justice,” and “threatening law enforcement officers” is  both relevant and provable.

Hansen: “Does Mr. Bundy have the right to raise a constitutional question about the legality of the high-handed tactics of the BLM?” Hansen asked in his court papers. “Of course he does — and particularly by making statements about the actions of the BLM and by the exercise of people’s First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and the people’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” [LVRJ]

By this logic, if one were to show up at a BLM office, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, fully loaded, and pointed at the personnel inside, this would be “making a statement?” Exercising freedom of speech? And, just showing support for the 2nd Amendment?  This ought to explain fully and quickly precisely how the sons decided that taking over a wildlife refuge was a “good idea.”   It goes nowhere toward explaining how attorney and IAP pillar Joel Hansen is going to turn the muggers into martyrs.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics, public lands

Right Wing School Daze in Nevada

School Corridor Lockers And now the National School Boards Association weighs in – along side the National Education Association – that’s not a combination one sees all that often. What might bring them together?  Nevada’s egregious Strip The Schools Funding scheme, or SB 302. (pdf) [RGJ]  Others who’ve found the new private/home school funding scheme an atrocious way to funnel funds away from public education include the NAACP, the SPLC, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  All these organizations oppose the right wing privatization plan.  They’re right.

The brain fart  child of Republican Scott Hammond (NVS-18) who has an interest in the Somerset Academy (as a founding member), is yet another way to line the pockets of  Floridian entrepreneurs, specifically the Zuluetas who control about $115 million in south Florida real estate, all exempt from property taxes as “public schools.”  [MiamiHerald]  The Zuluetas’s little empire has a fairly broad reach, as explained by the Miami Herald:

Academica’s reach extends from Florida to Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Utah and California, where the company also manages charter schools. But Academica is best known for managing four prominent school networks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties: the Mater Academies, the Somerset Academies, the Doral Academies and the Pinecrest Academies.

In the 2010-11 school year, these four chains had 44 South Florida schools with about 19,000 students. Each network of schools is run by a nonprofit corporation, which in turn is run by a volunteer governing board. These boards set policy for the schools, and also approve the management contracts and property leases — including the land deals with the Zulueta companies. While the teachers and principals work for the nonprofits, Academica routinely vets personnel and recommends principals from within its stable of schools.

As much as the principal characters in the Academica wish to claim altruistic motives and concern for the education of their little enrollees, there have been serious questions about the  “land deals” in Florida – since when have there not been questions about land deals in Florida? – and the connectivity between the academies and the corporation…a corporation which on at least one occasion held a lovely  corporate session in the Bahamas at the expense of the schools. [MiamiHerald] [CIOK] Enough questions were raised to grab the attention of the Feds who investigated Academica. [EdDive]

By April 20, 2014 the Department of Education’s office of inspector general had heard enough to begin an audit of Academica’s dealings. [MiamiHerald]

Little wonder some major organizations have questions regarding the transfer of funds – tax dollars – away from public schools whose lease arrangements, contracts, funds, and all other operations must be conducted in public, as matters of public record, complete with audits.

The byzantine labyrinth of connections between land developers in Florida and education in Nevada might be sufficient to call this inane bit of legislation into question – but wait, there’s more:

“Unless otherwise stated in the legislation, nothing in the legislation will be deemed to limit the independence or autonomy of any participating entity.” [edchoice]

If my reading skills haven’t escaped me this means that the State Treasurer can’t object to public funds being shipped off to the “Flower Child School of Sensitivity and Sensations,” the “Spartan Academy for Children in Need of Physical Restraint,” or parents who believe that everything a child needs to know in life can be taught by learning to knit.  There’s another item in the list that might give some serious militarists pause: What would prevent a “school” from encouraging a “gap year” for a student to “study with ISIS in Syria?”

However, the dubious intent of some recipients of Nevada tax dollars may be a side show.  The real intent is the privatization (and profitization) of American public schools.  If sufficient funds are stripped away from public schools, then their overhead expenses and personnel costs will be such a burden as to precipitate a financial collapse and consequent “need” for “flexible” charter/private education.  The plan is relatively simple, just flood a market with private schools, “market share demonstration sites,” – or call them “investment sites” – and those vulnerable markets will pave the way for the privatization process. [CashKids]

There’s nothing secret about this, the privatization contingent has a road map:

“First, commit to drastically increasing the charter market share in a few select communities until it is the dominant system and the district is reduced to a secondary provider. The target should be 75 percent. Second, choose the target communities wisely. Each should begin with a solid charter base (at least 5 percent market share), a policy environment that will enable growth (fair funding, nondistrict authorizers, and no legislated caps), and a favorable political environment (friendly elected officials and editorial boards, a positive experience with charters to date, and unorganized opposition). For example, in New York a concerted effort could be made to site in Albany or Buffalo a large percentage of the 100 new charters allowed under the raised cap. Other potentially fertile districts include Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.” [EdNext]

Proponents of privatization toss the usual buzz words into the discussion: Choice, Flexibility, Market Share, Free Markets, etc.  What they are NOT inserting is also germane:  Shareholder Value Theory, and Return on Investment.  If privatization is the model, then current financial theory is part of that system, and it isn’t too far fetched to believe that the insertion of the Shareholder Value Theory is part of the mindset of those advocating private education services.   Is it too difficult to imagine what a Martin Shkreli could do with a few schools?

In short, the “Nevada System” under SB 302 is an invitation to corporate cronyism, corporate malfeasance, theoretically valid but ethically unspeakable administration, and good old fashioned chaos.  The National School Boards Assn. and the other organizations are correct in pushing back against this disturbing trend.

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Filed under education

Local Water, the EPA: Beyond Goodsprings

Water Faucet EPA

The Reno Gazette Journal reports that there are 23 local water systems in Nevada which are not in compliance with drinking water standards (there are currently 22, but more on that later).  Three local systems listed in the article have lead contamination levels exceeding the lead standard, 15 ppb (parts per billion) as the “action level.”  The public needs this information. However, the agency responsible for establishing the maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards is the whipping boy of choice for the Republican Party.  In short – it really doesn’t do to get up in arms about water or air pollution levels and then call for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The regulatory system isn’t all that complicated. The EPA establishes the standards and then it’s up to the states to devise the implementation.  There’s a reason for this. Setting national standards means that states can’t compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ in which some states seek to attract industry by lowering standards until they are in competition to achieve the status of “Worse Than Any Pig Would Ever Consider in a Sty.”  And, potentially damaging everyone else’s air and water in the process.  However, this hasn’t stopped Over-Hyped Demagogue Donald Trump from calling for handing over environmental regulation to the individual states.  [WaPo]

Nor has this made much of an impression on Seven Mountain Dominionist Ted Cruz; “Cruz has called the EPA a “radical” agency that has imposed “illegal” limits on greenhouse gases from power plants. “I think states should press back using every tool they have available,” the Texas senator has said. “We’ve got to rein in a lawless executive that is abusing its power.” [WaPo]

Ohio Governor John Kasich has been critical of the Michigan attempts to address its man-made, GOP inspired, water quality issues in Flint, MI, but hasn’t been on top of the situation with the Sebring, OH water contamination. [TP]

The 2008 Republican national platform was exceptionally mealy-mouthed about environmental protection:

“Our national progress toward cleaner air and water has been a major accomplishment of the American people. By balancing environmental goals with economic growth and job creation, our diverse economy has made possible the investment needed to safeguard natural resources, protect endangered species, and create healthier living conditions. State and local initiatives to clean up contaminated sites — brownfields — have exceeded efforts directed by Washington. That progress can continue if grounded in sound science, long-term planning, and a multiuse approach to resources.”

It’s not likely that much more will come from a 2016 version.   Nor should we expect much in the way of support for addressing the national problems associated with our drinking water systems.  Remember the ASCE’s Report Card on American Infrastructure (2013)?

“At dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but as a nation we’re running on a Run-to-Ruin system in which local water distributors are functioning with outdated infrastructure while trying to maintain acceptable levels of quality.  Goodsprings Elementary School offers us an example of what can happen given a 1913 building and 21st century water quality standards. [RGJ]  If Goodsprings was an isolated example, then we could address the aging pipes and move on, but it’s not that isolated, nor that uncommon.  Current EPA estimates indicate we are having to replace between 4,000 and 5,000 miles of drinking water mains in this country on an annual basis, and that the annual replacement rate will peak sometime around 2035 with 16,000 and 20,000 miles of aging pipe needing to be replaced each year. [ASCE]

Putting The Public Back In Public Utility

I am going to start with some basic assumptions. First, that a family or person should be able to move to any part of this great land and expect to find clean water running from the faucet.  Secondly, that it is not a good idea to allow individual states to set drinking water standards, since some might find it inconvenient or inexpedient to set scientifically reliable standards in the interest of “development” or “industrialization.”  Such a piece meal approach would put paid to the first basic assumption.   So, if we’re agreed that any person in this country should have a reasonable expectation of clean drinking water then we need national standards.

Some of the standards are easier than others.  Arsenic contamination levels offer an example of a complex problem with some nuanced related issues.  The MCL (maximum contaminant level) for arsenic was lowered in 2001 from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. Public water systems were to be in compliance by January 23, 2006. [EPA] [More information at FAS pdf] The Reno Gazette Journal reports ten Nevada water systems not in compliance.  One, the McDermitt GID has recently been declared in compliance with a current projected annual running average below 10 ppb after the system put in a new central well.

Arsenic enters the drinking water systems one of two ways, either through industrial activity or as a naturally occurring contaminant.  If the system is west of the Rocky Mountains it’s a reasonably good bet that the arsenic is naturally occurring.  It’s probably not too far off the mark to say that if the standard were set at 15 ppb most Nevada water systems would be in compliance, but the standard is 10 and that’s ultimately what matters.

The smaller public water systems have more trouble meeting the standards than the larger ones, as described by the BSDW:  “The smaller systems are the ones that tend to struggle with regaining compliance because they typically have limited financial resources so we have to collectively figure out ways to help that community get back to compliance,” said Jennifer Carr, NDEP deputy administrator. “Larger systems such as TMWA also have more personnel to tackle projects whereas some of our smaller water systems are operated by one person who might be doing another side job.” [RGJ]

And, now we’re down to the gritty part: Where does the money come from to resolve contaminant problems with arsenic? Or, for that matter, other water infrastructure issues?    The State Revolving Fund provides low interest loans for water infrastructure projects in the state; and can in some circumstances offer “forgiven” loans to small public water services.  The “bottom line” is that in 2016 there will be a need for approximately $279 million for arsenic treatment, groundwater treatment, storage tank replacements, metering systems, and distribution lines in Nevada.  And, the worse news, “Not all will be funded.” [KTVN]

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was created in 1996 to support water systems and state safe water programs.  “The 51 DWSRF programs function like infrastructure banks by providing low interest loans to eligible recipients for drinking water infrastructure projects. As money is paid back into the state’s revolving loan fund, the state makes new loans to other recipients. These recycled repayments of loan principal and interest earnings allow the state’s DWSRF to “revolve” over time.”  [EPA]   As of 2014 this system had provided $27.9 billion to water suppliers to improve drinking water treatment, improve sources of drinking water, providing safe storage tanks, fixing leaking or aging distribution pipe, and other projects to protect public health. [EPA] The EPA estimates that small public water systems nationwide, those serving populations less than 3,330,  will need approximately $64.5 billion for infrastructure needs. [EPA 5th report pdf]

What was the Republican controlled Congress’s response? They may have avoided a shutdown, but the waters weren’t exactly flowing:

The bill provides $863.2 million for the DWSRF  well below President Obama’s request of $1.186 billion and more than $40 million below the programs FY2015 appropriation.While the figure represents the lowest DWSRF appropriation in several years, it is significantly above the FY16 funding levels originally proposed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, each of which would have cut DWSRF funding to below $780 million. [UIM]

What have we learned?

  • The Republican candidates for the presidency show little to no enthusiasm for infrastructure investments in general, and beyond bemoaning the state of Flint’s water system which must be someone’s fault “just not ours,” even less enthusiasm for funding local drinking water improvement projects.
  • The Republicans in Congress were only too happy to cut funding for the best source for local public water companies projects, in the name of “fiscal responsibility” – meaning, one could think, that preserving tax cuts for the rich is preferable to providing clean drinking water to everyone.
  • The infrastructure needs in this country are serious and go well beyond fixing bridges and filling pot-holes.  This, and we’ve not yet reached the peak of distribution line replacement needs coming up in the next 20 years.
  • “Austerity” is a lovely buzz word, and “We’d love to do it but we just can’t afford to” is a fine campaign trail stump speech phrase, but these won’t keep the water coming from the tap clean and safe.  We need to stop thinking of our infrastructure as an expense and begin to consider it for what it is – an investment; an investment in the capacity of our cities and towns to provide basic services so that economic activity can take place.
  • And, NO it isn’t a good idea to abolish the EPA.

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