Tag Archives: Nevada infrastructure

Infrastructure Funding and Financing: Another Trumpian Disaster in the Making

Let’s start with the ASCE’s report card on Nevada’s infrastructure.  The last report card on our kitchen table gives us an overall average C-.  Nevada’s two lowest grades (both D’s) are in categories for schools and dams. The claims from the current White House administration would imply that Nevada will see marvelous levels of investment in Job Creating Infrastructure Projects.  Not. So. Fast.

There are some questions related to projected infrastructure legislation which Nevada elected officials may want to consider very carefully.

#1. Does the infrastructure legislation address Nevada’s greatest needs?  The answer at present is “maybe not.” The commentary coming from the White House, and from members of Congress imply that most of the infrastructure plans are part of the Transportation budget.  [Hill] Again, roads and bridges are important, so are airports, but the greatest needs in this state are for projects and funding for upgrading schools and dams.

This past February a dam failed in Elko county, flooding farmland, homes, and stopping traffic on the Union Pacific RR. Obviously dams must eventually get their due. First, we should notice that the state of Nevada doesn’t keep a ranking of hazardous dams, most of which fall into the “earthen” category.  Secondly, it should be noted that a high hazard dam refers to the damage possible should the dam fail, not to the actual condition of the dams themselves.  Third, many dams in this state are privately owned.  About one third of our 650+ dams are constructed for flood control, another third for mining operations, and the remaining third fall into the amorphous category “anything else.” The state has been relying on 11 engineers to keep track of the 650+ dams, and Governor Sandoval’s budget proposal calls for three additional engineers in the Water Division for the next fiscal term. [LVRJ]

School facility upgrades and construction generally lie outside the common understanding of ‘infrastructure’ expenditures, being the province of local school districts, and based on the shifting sands of bond issues. Nothing signaled by the administration thus far would suggest expansion of federal interest in this category of infrastructure investment.

#2.  Will the legislation address Nevada’s needs for the construction and maintenance of roads and highways?  Maybe not.   The situation at present:

“The Nevada Department of Transportation maintains 5,300 miles of state highways, which includes many rural roadways within Nevada. Without an increase in the gas tax since 1992, the state funding levels have stagnated and Federal funding has remained at a similar level the past 5 years. Hence, the maintenance of the existing highway system has fallen behind and the state will need approximately $285 million annually for the next decade to catch up on the current backlog of highway maintenance. The current funding levels provide only 60% to 70% of the required funding to maintain the state highways. This has resulted in an increase in the number of lane miles requiring either an overlay or full rehabilitation from 28% two years ago to 38% currently.” [ASCE]

New construction is great, no one should argue against it where it’s needed to improve the flow and traffic and attendant commerce, however, when nearly 40% of the current roadways need overlays or full rehabilitation, the problem is focused on maintaining what we have at present not necessarily on new construction projects.

#3. Does the administration’s plan differentiate between financing and funding?  This is important.  A definition is in order:

“Infrastructure funding and financing are different concerns. Funding specifies how resources will be collected to pay for infrastructure construction, operations and maintenance, and repairs. Financing generally concerns how to raise the large upfront costs needed to build the infrastructure.” [EPI]

So, the administration has spoken of “a trillion dollars in infrastructure investment,” what does this mean?  For the administration is apparently means “leveraging private dollars.” Again, some translation is necessary.  What the administration is talking about is the financing of construction projects. And, we’re back to the difference between funding and financing — if states are facing the same questions posed back in 2015, when Republicans proposed that HTF projects be limited to the revenue accumulated from gasoline and diesel taxation, then many projects, especially of the improvement and maintenance variety will be put on hold. [BondBuyer] Infrastructure funding will be a function of how the administration budget addresses the issue of raising the money necessary to construct, operate, and maintain.  However, if the administration is speaking of “leveraging private funds,” then we should assume that the White House is referring to new construction.  And, now we enter the land of the P3.

A P3 is: “Public-private partnerships (P3s) are contractual agreements formed between a public agency and a private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery and financing of transportation projects.” [DOT]

Let’s put this question of infrastructure investment in purely financial terms:  Who benefits from P3 structuring?  Hint: It isn’t necessarily the state and local governments because bond yields for such things as school construction, road construction, and other large projects have been dropping since their “highs” around 1982 (13+%) to the current rates (3.5+%). [MuniBond]

Bluntly stated, it’s not the financing that’s a problem for state and local governments, they’re paying almost historic low yields (interest) on the bonds they’ve issued for major projects.  The administration is approaching the infrastructure investment issue from the wrong end of the stick — focusing on the financing and not the funding.

#4. Is the use of the P3 structure based on the needs and capacities of the states and municipalities or the desires of private investment?  Some attention is required because:

“In theory, they can(P3)  be effective—but they provide no free lunches. Funding must still be found for the projects—and ordinary households will end up paying the costs through taxes or user fees. In addition, the details of contract construction and oversight are daunting and require a competent, democratically accountable government to manage them. In short, P3s do not allow for simple outsourcing because they do not bypass the need to fund infrastructure or the need for competent public management.” [EPI]

Or, P3s don’t replace the more traditional methods of financing — local and state taxation is still required for paying project costs. There’s nothing ‘simple’ about these arrangements, and they require extensive oversight and management.  Before leaping into a P3 it should be revealed that these generally allow governments and investors to ignore the requirement of Davis-Bacon Act ‘prevailing wages.’ This may ‘create jobs’ but it doesn’t create ‘good paying jobs’ in the construction sector.

#5. Does the administration plan specify financing and funding of infrastructure projects or is it simply a “tax credit” giveaway to investors?  It certainly sounds like it at this point, but the administration, as is becoming more obvious every day, seems to be short on specifics, and the only solid at the moment is the “tax credit” portion of the pronouncements.  If this is a tax credit for projects already in the planning stage, then it’s hard to characterize this as a bright and shiny new proposal.

#6. Location, Location, Location?  Granted that Nevada is an urban state, with most of the population located in two counties, but the roads, bridges, and dams are aligned through predominantly rural areas. Investors, in P3 or other financing schemes, can clearly see the benefits of construction in urban areas (toll roads, toll bridges, etc.) Rural areas, not so much. Nor does the financing strategy address other infrastructure issues in urban areas — how, for example, does Clark County improve its public transportation facilities and components? Washoe County? Or, Douglas, Lyon counties, and Carson City?  How will investment be directed to poorer areas, or areas under served by current transportation systems? Stated more generally:

“The other problem is that Trump’s approach makes it less likely he’ll actually create new jobs. If the customer base can afford it, and they really need the infrastructure, then the project is almost certainly already profitable and private firms are already willing to do it. The tax credit just sweetens the deal on the margins. Where there’s demand, the private market can already create jobs. The less you’re willing to redistribute, the fewer new jobs you can create.” [TheWeek]

This is another point at which the magic hand of the Market fails on one side and succeeds on the other — where there is demand (and the capacity to meet that demand, the tax credits are minimally useful (except to investors) — where there is great need but little capacity to meet the demand, then the tax credits aren’t an inducement to job creation.

We need to take some care to observe whether the “infrastructure” plan is (1) truly about infrastructure needs in Nevada? (2) truly a job creating plan and not merely a way to get tax credit benefits to the investor class, or ignore the Davis Bacon Act requirements for American workers, (3) about getting the infrastructure investments where it is actually needed.

Caveat Emptor.

 

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Filed under Economy, Federal budget, Infrastructure, Nevada highways, Nevada politics, Politics, public transportation

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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Filed under Appropriations, Congress, conservatism, Economy, EPA, Infrastructure, nevada health, Politics, public health, Water

GOP Far Away Land: Solutions in Search of Problems

Alien Planet guns

It’s like they live on another planet.  Republican legislators in Carson City appear to be marching to the same off beat drum kit as their Washington, D.C. counterparts.  Have problems with infrastructure? Education? Revenue? Income inequality? Unemployment? The solution is (staccato drum roll) Pass more laws on abortion! Allow more guns everywhere!

The Single Song Sallies of the Nevada GOP are absorbed by these two.  Assemblyman Ira Hansen (R-NV backwater) proposes the following:

“AN ACT relating to abortions; revising provisions regulating an abortion performed on a pregnant woman who is a minor or a ward; requiring notification of a parent or guardian under certain circumstances before a physician performs such an abortion; providing expedited procedures for petitioning a court for judicial authorization to proceed without such notification; providing civil liabilities and criminal penalties; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”

How this bit of anti-choice legislation addresses employment, economic diversification, educational funding, transportation, infrastructure, local government resources, provisions for mental health services, or any other major issue facing the state is pure conjecture.  The nationwide abortion rate among those under 15 years of age is negligible for the period 1990 to 2007, and abortions for those aged 15 to 18 years has declined from 21,800 in 1990 to 16,200 as of 2007. [CensusCDC]  This decline mirrors the overall decline in teen pregnancies, which in turn is linked to economic considerations, more contraceptives, and more information (read: sex education). [Pew] However, Big Daddy Government Types exemplified by Assemblyman Hansen, won’t be satisfied until every woman has to carry every man’s fetus to term.  And for this, time is being taken from taxation and budget consideration in the Assembled Wisdom.

Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Michele “Take Baking Soda for your Cancer” Fiore (R-NRA) would be happy to attach her Guns Galore amendment to any bit of legislation she can find. [LVRJ]  She lost the vote, 24-18 in the Assembly, but she’ll be back before the end of the session on June 1. [LTN]

What makes coping with single issue ideologues like Hansen and Fiore so frustrating is that Nevada does have some serious issues which need to be addressed.  Education, which was supposed to be the central feature of this legislative session, has some problems. For instance, Nevada schools ranked 50th in “overall state grades,” and 36th in K-12 achievement, 45th in standards and assessments, and 46th in school finance. [leg.state.nv]  The American Society of Civil Engineering grades Nevada a C- in infrastructure.  We “earned” a D+ in dams, and we have 36 bridges which are deemed “structurally deficient.”  The Mental Health Association reports the following in regard to Nevada’s mental health services: “The five states with the highest prevalence of mental illness and the lowest rates of access to care were Louisiana (47), Washington (48), Nevada (49), Mississippi (50) and Arizona (51).”

Speaking to the income inequality issue, Nevada’s not in a very good position in that regard either:  “The states in which all income growth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent include Delaware, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island, and Nevada.”

Now, can we please talk about something other than government so small it can fit inside every vagina, and guns galore?

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Filed under abortion, Gun Issues, Mental Health, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Spooks, Haunts, and other Scary Things in the Nevada Legislature

Nevada Legislature Scary Things

The GOP controlled Nevada Legislature is haunted. Specters and spooks dog the steps of the members of the Assembled Wisdom, wraiths point toward things of which we must be afraid, very afraid.

We must be afraid of voter impersonation fraud.  The fact that it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that we ought not to writhe in terror at the prospect.  Speaking of ghosts of elections past, we have Sharron Angle to add her wail to the cries of alarm:

“Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race to Harry Reid, testified for the bill, saying “we do have a voter impersonation problem across the country.”  Anderson asked if she has found examples of voter impersonation in Nevada in her investigations. Angle said no, but that there is “anomalous activity that goes on in Nevada elections that is not easily explained.” [LVRJ]

One might reasonably guess that “anomalous activity” is one of those terms which might be analogous to the Spectral Evidence allowed in the Salem Witch Trials?   However, we might just as well place this within the glossary of meaningless phrases, which while sounding erudite, mean almost nothing, such as “stocks are down on profit taking,” or “there’s lots of cash on the sidelines.” [Ritholtz] Or, such unverifiable and empty notions like “highway miles.”  Or, those gratuitous and equally meaningless phrases which appear in job opening announcements, “self starter,” “team player,” and “highly qualified.”

The point being is that bills like SB 169 (photo ID) are necessary to solve the Republican problem of not being able to win elections if lower income, non-white, young people, and the elderly are allowed to vote.

We must be very afraid of criminals.  Not only must we quake in alarm, according to the GOP Gun Club we must arm ourselves and await the day when we will be called upon to open fire on the evil-doers in our midst. Unfortunately, this serves to remind us that one person who tried this at the Las Vegas Wal-Mart ended up as a victim. [SFgate] No matter, by the lights of the Gun Club we must all be allowed to carry concealed weapons – anywhere – unless maybe not on school grounds.  (AB 148) 

As of 2013 there were 2,790,236 people in the state of Nevada.  There were 16,496 violent crimes reported.  We should put this in some perspective.  First, if we divide the number of violent crimes (victims) by the total population the result is 0.00591.  Shift the decimal to create a percentage and we have 0.59%. [TDC]  Is the likelihood of victimization in a violent crime in Nevada so high that all the dangers associated with carrying a concealed weapon worth the effort? Secondly, there were 163 murders, 1,090 rapes, 5,183 robberies, and 10,060 assaults in Nevada as of the 2013 reporting period.  [TDC]   The numbers don’t suggest a need for a proliferation of arms among ordinary citizens.

But but but… What if the criminals think there will be armed opposition to their nefarious endeavors! That will prevent them from carrying out their heinous designs! Really?  The armed robber already has his or her gun in position, ready to fire. The gun in my purse or holster is going to take a moment to get “into position.” Thus, the obvious outcome is that the robber gets the money, and the firearm.  Then there is the “collateral damage” consideration.  What if the “burglar” isn’t a criminal after all, but some family member who has lost a key?  In public spaces, how does Our Concealed Carry Hero determine if another Concealed Carry Hero is, or is not, a perpetrator of the shooting? The questions go on, but the bottom line is that in the fanciful world of the gun enthusiasts every hero can make practical decisions at 2 in the morning, make every shot count, and insure that every shot is aimed at and will hit the criminal.  It’s a scenario right out of the made for TV melodramas. Legislation should be crafted upon a foundation of facts and rationality, not the fevered imaginings of the frightened.

We must be afraid that someone somewhere is taking money away from us, and that every accumulation of government revenue is robbery, and every public service employee is unworthy.  Those comfortably ensconced in the upper 0.01% of income earners may very well be able to buy all the books they want (therefore there is no need for public libraries) or to spend a vacation on a private island or in a private resort (therefore there is no need for any public parks), and they may elect to spend money on private security, or pay for service firefighting, or pay the tolls on roads and highways, or send the kids to private schools.  When money is no object, other people’s money is little more than a object of attraction. 

Unfortunately, the upper 0.01% has been effective over the last three decades in convincing ordinary people earning $50,000 per year that a public school beginning teacher earning $37,000 is a Pig At The Public Trough.  The median wage of an employee of the State of Nevada is currently $46,590.  Hardly a figure, when agency heads are included, to describe an opulent living.   Yet, public employees are taking fire in this edition of the Legislature.

However, it’s not just the public sector employees who are drawing the attention of the Needy Greedy.   State Senator Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) wants to repeal the state’s minimum wage.  Hardy’s SJR 6 (pdf) would repeal Nevada’s minimum wage provisions and let the legislature determine if an employer is providing health insurance if the cost is not more than 10% of the employee’s gross taxable income.  Here’s a thought – How about, instead of allowing more employers to pay less than $8.25 per hour, Nevada enacted an increase in the minimum wage? Period.

Want to see fewer people have to rely on housing subsidies to keep roofs over their heads? Raise the minimum wage.  Want to see fewer people have to resort to the SNAP programs? – raise the minimum wage. Want to see fewer individuals have to avail themselves of Medicaid assistance? Raise the minimum wage. 

For too many years we’ve been told the people (including the disabled and the elderly) aren’t working hard enough.  They should get more education (despite the costs and time involved), get more gumption (this in the face of a 5% multi-job rate), work more hours… take individual responsibility!  This is all lovely palaver from the heights, the concepts tend to disintegrate when applied in the real world.  The question could as easily be reversed. For example, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, with sales and revenue reported as $14.58 billion in 2014, and net income of $2.84 billion, couldn’t spring for more than a paltry $8.25 per hour?  The question ought to be why can’t employers pay more than $10.10 per hour, or a living wage of $15.00?

In the real world most employers do pay more than the minimum already.  Minimum wage workers comprise about 4.7% of the total employed workforce.  The chart shows national trends for minimum wage workers:

Minimum Wage workers

“Leisure and Hospitality,” where have we seen that category before? L&H is the largest employer in the state, accounting for approximately 398,000 jobs earning an average annual wage of $31,600 (net of benefits.)  So, here we sit in a state in which most employees are engaged by a sector most likely to pay earnings at or below the federal minimum wage – and we can’t figure out that those who need housing or SNAP assistance might not fall into those categories if the wages were increased? So, let’s ask again: Why are Nevada employers unwilling to pay wages which would support their employees above the rate at which they are eligible for public assistance?

There are some things about which we should be legitimately concerned, those just don’t seem to have made it into the consciousness of the Legislature’s majority. Here are two examples:

Nevada has an income inequality problem.

“The states in which all income growth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent include Delaware, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island, and Nevada.” [EPI] (emphasis added)

This situation is economically unsustainable.  As middle income and lower income earners tighten their belts and shave their budgets, there are simply not enough high income earners to create the demand for goods and services over time.

Nevada has infrastructure issues.  Only in the categories of waste water and solid waste does the state of Nevada get a ‘good’ grade, a B, from the ASCE.  We seem to be handling the excremental elements of our state rather better than our school buildings and our dams.

If the Legislature can move past Guns Galore!, Labor Bashing, and Vote Suppressing, we might want to address these and other pressing issues in the Silver State.

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Filed under Crime Rates, Gun Issues, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

Guns and Nutters: Nevada Legislature Recoils

Guns Nevada Legis Infrastructure

The state of Nevada has 158 “high hazard” dams.  ‘High hazard’ means there could be loss of life or significant property damage if a dam failure were to occur. [ASCE]  However, the state legislature appears to have other priorities. Guns, case in point:   SB 175.  As of February 4, 2015 there were 10 bills in the Assembled Wisdom regarding guns. [RGJ]  SB 175 is particularly subservient to the National Rifle (Manufacturers) Association:

“Senate Bill 175, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, also would loosen Nevada’s reciprocity laws with other states regarding concealed weapon permits and repeal a handgun registration requirement in Clark County, a local ordinance that has been in existence for more than six decades.

Further, it would establish “state control over the regulation of policies concerning firearms,” and allow anyone “adversely affected” by local ordinances or regulations that violate the measure to sue for damages.

The measure would make it illegal for anyone convicted of domestic violence, even a misdemeanor offense, from owning a gun. A violation would constitute a felony. It also would prohibit anyone under an extended protection order from acquiring a gun while the order is in effect.” [LVRJ]

Part One – the reciprocity would lower Nevada standards to the least common denominator among the states. Part Two – repeals the permitting requirements in Clark County. Part Three – allows anyone with a grouse to sue local governments on the grounds of “2nd Amendment Free-dumb.” Part Four – says a person under a domestic violence restraining order cannot buy a gun – and says nothing about removing guns from an abuser who already has possession of them prior to conviction.  Meanwhile, …

The state’s budget for dealing with high hazard dams is half the national average, and there are only 3 full time employees responsible for overseeing an average of  225 state regulated dams.   [ASCE]  Nevada ranks 23rd in the nation in renewable energy in a state well known for sun and wind.  [ASCE]

However, those dams and that renewable energy aren’t major topics among the Assembled Wisdom because the efforts thus far highlight how a gun hobbyist in Nevada can get a concealed carry permit as easily as he or she could in Florida – wherein the standard appears to be the capacity to slightly fog a mirror. [TP]  Witness: AB 127 which would do away with local Clark County firearms regulation and put all the authority in the hands of the State.  [LVRJ]  I must be getting very forgetful in my dotage, but I do recall a time when Republicans were all about “local control.”

The state could use more funds for its educational system, both k-12 and higher education; more funding for its public health programs; more resources for our mental health and child welfare services – and more resources allocated to improving our infrastructure.  But, the prime topic in this rendition of the Assembled Wisdom seems to be the care and nurturing of our ‘beleaguered ammosexuals.’   Because, you know… Freedumb.

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Think of the Children

ChildrenSpare me the piteous cries of, “Think of the children and grandchildren!” emanating from the right wing when any allocation of resources is mentioned which could possibly help darn the holes in our social safety net programs.  IT (whatever it might be) will burden them with the horrible no good awful national debt — unless, of course we’re talking about reducing taxes for millionaires, billionaires, oil companies, hedge fund managers, and ….  Nevada’s managed, yet again, to hit the bottom in the Child Well Being category. [RGJ]

One of the nice things about thinking in ideological generalities is that one’s not required to consider the practical, all too real, consequences.  For example, that Nevada ranks 48th in the child well being category in the Kids Count analysis. (pdf)

That would be 48th in overall ranking, 47th in economic well being, 50th in education, 47th in health, and 44th in family/community rank.

These rankings aren’t something to dismiss out of hand. First, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private philanthropy based in Baltimore, MD, that specializes in compiling statistics on children’s environments, and promoting cost effective solutions for legislative and community consideration — and it’s been doing this since its inception in 1948.

Nor is the Foundation merely a font of doom and gloom, when speaking of trends in child welfare, they note some progress in the overall safety and well being of children since they started their Data Book project in 1990:

“There also is a positive trend in parental education that benefits kids: A smaller percentage of children live in families in which no parent has a high school diploma — from 22% in 1990 to 15% in 2012. In addition, the teen birth rate is at a historic low and the death rates for children and teens has fallen as a result of medical advances and increased usage of seat belts, car seats and bike helmets.”  [AEC]

So, how did Nevada get into negative territory? In 2008 the number of children in the state whose parents at least 35 hours per week for 50 weeks per year (classified as employment insecurity) was approximately 173,000, or about 26%.  By 2012 that number increased to 226,000 or 34%.  In 2008 there were 54,000 children living in Nevada homes in which at least one parent was unemployed.  In 2012 the number was 79,000, or about 12%.  [AECF]

Measuring by the number of children living in homes in which the family income was less than twice the official federal poverty level and at least one parent was working at least 50 weeks per year (defined as low income working families), Nevada had 68,000 children in that category in 2008, a number which increased to 88,000 four years later. [AECF]

Have we been mentioning that what this state needs are JOBS? Once more, spare me the “we can’t afford it” wailing when we speak to the necessity of maintaining and improving our state infrastructure — and thus creating JOBS.  When the 2007-08 Recession pounded the state of Nevada, Las Vegas lost 1,053 public sector jobs, while the state pared down a total of 2,170. [CEPR] In the Pie/Sky ideological generalities of the right wing this would be a good thing — fewer public employees — but when the brass tacks are counted this means fewer teacher’s aides, librarians, educational special services, kitchen employees, road maintenance workers, parks and recreation employees, police officers, firefighters, and so on. In other words — these aren’t the “bureaucrats” so belittled by the conservatives, they are the people who do jobs which improve communities.

We’ve lost about 4.08% of our state workforce, another 10.77% of our local workforce, and 9.03% of those classified as “state/local” since the Recession. [Governing]

Another grating refrain is the moan that we are “transferring money from the private sector to the public.”   In the rarefied atmosphere of ultra-conservative thinking this means that tax revenue is collected from private sources and used for public services, which is somehow determined to be a “bad” idea.  Since when was it “bad” to have well maintained roads, well stocked libraries, pleasant and useful parks, good schools, safe neighborhoods, responsive fire departments, and all those features which real estate agents tout as part of the “excellent location” of the houses they are trying to sell?

Or, to look at it from the other angle — what effect does it have on a person’s property value to have failing schools, unkempt parks, inadequate libraries, and slow response times from fire and police services?  In this realm, the ultra-conservatives fall easily into the Something for Nothing crowd; they certainly don’t want declining property values, but they don’t want to pay the taxes necessary to keep the value of their property increasing.  They want the assets which factor into their property value — they just don’t want to pay for them.

Private sector employment has done better in the Silver State. Nevada’s climbed up from a dismal 10% unemployment rate this time last year to a 7. 7% unemployment rate as of June 2014. [BLS] That’s a nice 2.3% increase, putting us in the running for the most private sector jobs created in the last year.  If we’d decide to do something about our 149 high hazard dams, our $2.7 billion worth of drinking water infrastructure needs in the next two decades, our $2.9 billion in waste water treatment needs in the same period, our 40 structurally deficient bridges, and the 20% of our roads which are classified as in poor or mediocre condition [ACE] perhaps our employment numbers would be even better?

Perhaps if more parents were working we’d not see the disparity in the numbers of youngsters attending pre-schools?  The number of children from families functioning on less than 200% of the federal poverty level who are not getting some sort of early childhood education increased from 24,000 in 2005-07, to 31,000 between 2010-12.  The number of preschoolers from families in which the income was above 200% of the federal poverty line who were enrolled in some form of early childhood education increased. In 2005-07 about 67% of the kids were not enrolled, a percentage which improved to 60% by the 2010-12 period. [AECF]

The specific indicators on which Nevada’s rankings were based are available online at this location.   As with all compilations, there’s good news and bad news, gaps and spaces.

However, finding indicators of improvement should not divert us from trying to do something about those miserable national rankings.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada politics, Politics

3% and 5 Questions: Manufacturing in NV?

Nevada Economy by SectorsThe graphic above is a snapshot of current employment in Nevada by sector.  If this looks like more of the same old same old pattern, that is because it is.   Leisure and hospitality (aka gambling, resorts, and food service) is still THE major employer in the state.   Nor do the projections from DETR indicate this graphic is going to change significantly by 2015.

Nevada Job Projection 2015And, here we go again — the  increases in employment are predicted to be in construction (although not enough to make up ground lost in the collapse of the Housing Bubble), retail sales, and …. hospitality and food service.

There’s been something of a mantra from Nevada politicians of all stripes repeated ad nauseam that we need “diversification.”  So, each campaign season we tip our hats and raise our hands for “economic diversification,” and then watch the numbers from DETR continue to demonstrate the hotel and resort industry is Number One, retail sales are Number Two, and construction comes in at Number Three.  And, the charts look remarkably predictable:

Nevada Job Growth by sector

Thus Governor Sandoval offers his version of the Next Great New Effort in Economic Diversification — with some underlying assumptions.  (pdf) Those assumptions are that (1) pro-business is defined as low tax, and low regulation levels, premises associated with Trickle Down political theory; and (2) marketing is crucial to any effort to attract more industries to the Silver State.

The major problem, of course, is that we have to have something to market.  There are few more obvious references than the often repeated notion that Nevada (and the rest of this country for that matter) needs to improve the profile of manufacturing, usually expressed as “good well paying jobs.”

A large manufacturer needs transportation.  Transportation of materials and supplies are crucial. The larger the manufacturer, the more important the need to identify suppliers and to have transportation in place to meet the needs of the manufacturer.  [IGCSE]  Nevada’s McCarran Airport is the 7th “busiest,” and we do have about 1200 miles of rail track. [pdf]

Most of the improvements at McCarran have focused, for obvious reasons, on passenger traffic,  [ATC] with new funding for projects related to taxiways and aircraft parking to facilitate that  passenger traffic. [Reid] And, yes, McCarran is busy — just not with cargo traffic, it’s not on the top twenty global airports in terms of cargo [ACI] [ACI in metric tonnes]  McCarran’s figures from 2003 show the following cargo operations:

McCarran cargoThese are nice numbers, but nowhere near Memphis (UPS) which handles 3,916,811; or Anchorage at 2,646,695; Louisville at 2,166,565; Los Angeles – 1,747,075; Chicago – 1,376,552; NY/JFK – 1,344,126; Indianapolis – 1,012,589; and Newark – 885,574.  [ATR]  In short, it’s nice to refer to the “7th busiest airport” but a bit disingenuous to infer that McCarran is one of the major airports in terms of shipping supplies and products as items of cargo.

In short, before we start touting the transportation available for manufacturing,  more consideration ought to be given to enhancing the air cargo/freight facilities and infrastructure at Nevada’s two major airports.

Rail lines are a prime mover of freight and cargo.  That said, the question needs to be asked — Where are those 1200 miles of track going?   Rail freight tends to haul bulk commodities, specifically coal (44% of the total tonnage), industrial chemicals, plastic resins, fertilizers, grain and agricultural products, steel and primary products, lumber, automobiles, and scrap metal. [Gatlas]

However, the vision set forth in the Nevada economic development plans seems to center on manufacturing “gaming equipment, renewable components, composite materials, food processing, and aerospace products.” [Exec Sum pdf]  While the rail lines would be a positive element in the transportation of raw materials to a manufacturer, the lack of freight infrastructure for shipping finished products constricts the benefit of rail availability.

One manufacturing factor not mentioned in any significant way in the Executive Summary is WATER.  As Nevada seeks to improve its position in gaming technology, composite materials, and aerospace products we might want to consider what has been going on in another state in our region — New Mexico:

“Moreover, a typical facility producing semiconductors on six-inch wafers reportedly uses not only 240,000 kilowatt hours of electricity but also over 2 million gallons of water every day [9]. Newer facilities that produce eight-inch and twelve-inch wafers consume even more, with some estimates going as high as five million gallons of water daily. While recycling and reusing of water does occur, extensive chemical treatment is required for remediation, and in dry or desert areas such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, home to plants for Motorola, Philips Semiconductor, Allied Signal and Signetics, Intel, and other high-tech firms, the high consumption of water necessary for the manufacturing of semiconductors can pose an especially significant drain on an already scarce natural resource [10]. The existence of economic mainstays including the mining industry and the established presences of Sandia National Laboratories and the Los Alamos National Laboratory make New Mexico an attractive location for high-tech tenants. However, the opening of fabrication facilities in the state leaves its farmers and ranchers in constant competition with the corporations for rights to water consumption. On average, the manufacturing of just 1/8-inch of a silicon wafer requires about 3,787 gallons of wastewater, not to mention 27 pounds of chemicals and 29 cubic feet of hazardous gases [11].” [CNX]

Even if Nevada is not looking specifically at semi-conductor manufacturing, the composites mentioned are also water intensive, and messy.  The following advice comes from SCAPCA:

“Try to eliminate, reduce, and/or recycle waste whenever possible. Never put hazardous waste into the dumpster or down the drain. Put all the hazardous wastes in one area, be sure to separate your waste storage area from your product storage area, and label each of your containers. Make sure you dispose of your waste according to the applicable hazardous waste laws.”  [InfoH] (emphasis added)

The hazards involved for air and water contamination depend on the type of composite material being manufactured, and the list of those composites is fairly extensive.  One can only hope that the Executive Summary of the economic diversification plan’s mention of such elements as: “Identify and remove obstacles to business growth and expansion; Establish regulatory and business environment working group,” doesn’t translate to weakening protections for Nevada’s rather sparse water supply.

Workforce

“Employment in manufacturing peaked in September of 2006 at 50,900. Currently, there are 37,600 employees in the sector, a decline of 26.1% from the peak. Manufacturing employment is currently at levels last seen in 1996. Within the manufacturing sector, the biggest losses have been in the non-metallic mineral product manufacturing subsector. Employment in the food manufacturing and computer and electronics products manufacturing sectors has experienced substantial growth since 2010, however no sub-sectors have recovered to pre-recession levels.” [DETR]

There are currently some 1,239,891 individuals employed in the state of Nevada. If there are now approximately 37,600 employed in manufacturing, then that amounts to just a hair more than 3% of our total employment.

#1.  While we tout our “busy” airports, what policies and plans are in place to improve this element of our infrastructure for freight and cargo operations?

#2.  While we speak lovingly of our “pro-business” (aka low tax) environment, how does this relate to our weaknesses, i.e. an “underperforming” (and underfunded) educational system, and an “under capacity health care system?”

#3. While we periodically lament our dependence on the consumer driven hospitality and food service sector, have we articulated a definite manufacturing policy?

#4. While we want to expand our manufacturing sector, what consideration has been given to the competing interests of agricultural and manufacturing interests in terms of natural resources, specifically water?

#5.  While we are fond of telling anyone within range about our Free Market Spirit, how do we reconcile this with the necessity of preserving our scarce drinking water resources?

Food for thought as we prepare for the next session of the Nevada Legislature?

 

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy