Nevadans breathed a collective sigh of relief when this year’s legislative wrangling in Carson City finally ended after a session filled with as much grace and dignity as a junkyard dogfight. After the dust cleared, taxpayers sat down to assess how the largest tax increase in Nevada history would affect them, as taxpayers and in their businesses. Although it could have been worse, it isn’t good news.
The average wage earner will feel the pinch first in the increased taxes on cigarettes and liquor, but in the not-too-long run, all employees will be affected by the fact that their bosses now have to pay a tax of 0.7 percent on payroll. By increasing the cost of hiring each new full-time person, this tax discourages companies from hiring, and makes it less likely that employees will get raises, since the cost to the employer of each employee has been increased. Gaming companies will have to pay more for slot licenses and live entertainment. Businesses thinking of incorporating in Nevada, which has been billing itself as the “Delaware of the West”, will now think twice because of the new $100 incorporation fees. The effect of this tax package on financial institutions has yet to be determined. They got hit with a 2 percent payroll tax, plus a new quarterly tax on each bank branch. Slamming banks, especially when they are dealing with the crisis of low interest rates, may have unforeseen consequences for the health of their industry.
The word that most comes to mind when discussing the 2003 legislative session is accountability – first and foremost, accountability for the $836 million in new taxes that were passed. That amounts to an additional $379.00 tax burden for every man, woman and child in Nevada, and if you think businesses aren’t going to pass it down to your family, you don’t understand much about how business works. Republicans in both houses fought to keep the amount of taxes down, but all we heard from the supposedly Republican governor since before the session began was how we needed more taxes to support his vision for a bigger state government. Kenny Guinn should be held accountable for putting this burden on taxpaying Nevadans. The Democrat lawmakers in both houses, who agreed to handcuff education funding to the tax bill and hold the school budget hostage until taxes were raised to the amount they wanted, should have to answer for their actions as well. The voters will remember who they are in the next election cycle.
Accountability should also be the main thrust behind future education reforms. Now that we’ve passed the bloated $1.6 billion K-12 education budget demanded by Guinn, the Democrats and the Big Education lobbyists, what will Nevada taxpayers be getting for their money? Will test scores rise up from the basement, where they’ve been for many years? Will smaller class sizes at last become a reality? Will every child have a textbook? Will our second graders be able to read? Come to think of it, will our high school graduates be able to read? Or will this money go to hiring more levels of administrators and beefing up the already top-heavy education bureaucracy?
What we need is a system to make schools, principals and teachers accountable for the educational success or failure of the students under their care. If they get paid the same whether kids are learning or not, where’s the incentive to turn out well-educated graduates? Once an educator has been a principal for one year, he or she has lifetime tenure and can’t be moved or demoted to another job unless convicted of a felony. Where’s the accountability for principals?
Most teachers are dedicated professionals who truly care for their students and put their blood, sweat and tears into their work under very trying conditions. But, as in any profession, some are better than others in getting the work done. Those who accomplish goals and have their successes verified by improved test scores deserve to be rewarded financially. Those who need help in meeting their goals will be identified by their inability to raise test scores, and they should either receive training to make up for their deficiencies, or be reassigned to a position that’s a better match for their talents. Principals should have a financial stake in making sure the students in their schools succeed.
Change is always risky, but the biggest risk in this case is to leave the system the way it is, with the best educators getting paid the same as the worst. That’s not the way to ensure excellence. If it were, the Soviet economic system would have succeeded.
It’s time for accountability for past actions – voters must not forget the legislators who saddled us with the tax increase of 2003. And, for the future, we must demand accountability from the educational system to justify how this tax money is being spent. If we don’t do these two things, we’ll find ourselves in an even worse situation in the 2005 session.