I am a native Nevadan and I was publicly educated here. In fact, my father took time away from his gaming career to teach and my daughter and daughter-in-law are Nevada teachers now. I appreciate the vital role teachers and education have in our society. However, the fact is that the cost of a public education is accelerating at a rate which is exceeding our state’s economic growth rate.
From my perspective, the politics of legislation has always been about reconciling competing truths. One “truth”, in any vibrant developed economy is the breadth and quality of a public education. It is one of the pillars that supports and sustains a modern society. Another “truth” is that the wealth-creating engine of modern society is business. It is these businesses which create the jobs necessary to fulfill the needs of our modern economy. The final “truth” is the very real but often ignored fiduciary duty our legislators have when it comes to spending citizen money in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Nevada businesses are increasingly called upon by our legislators – in the name of education, healthcare, security and so on – to produce a bigger tax base for sufficient or increased funding. Particularly in the most recent 12 years, the business community has been asked to dramatically increase our internal costs (in the form of taxes) in order to increase the funding for many essential government services. These increases have been significant as evidenced by both the aggressive creation of new taxes and the subsequent upward movements in the rates. As taxes, fees and other costs of government increase beyond Nevada’s economic growth rate, we begin to run the risk of seriously degrading the very engine (businesses) necessary to support our modern economy.
During the Nevada 2015 legislative session, our legislators met the challenge of properly funding a quality public education by again laying the cost increase on the collective lap of the job creators. That habit of turning to business for funding, which played prominently in 2003 and 2009, happened again this year. In fact, this solution was aided by our Republican-controlled legislature and executive officers who promised a more balanced approach, yet pushed through a record tax increase.
The business community’s disappointment is not – contrary to popular opinion – a reluctance to pay our fair share. To be sure, we’ve repeatedly and with pride, stepped up and paid our share in the name of public education, which we all wholeheartedly support. Our disappointment lies instead with our legislative body’s reluctance to open a meaningful dialogue about the essential components of education cost reform. An earnest discussion about the ever-rising, unabated cost of our education system, including administrative expenditures as well as retiree healthcare and pension packages, is needed. We must address this issue on a legislative level or we’ll be stuck in a vicious cycle of tax and spend until there is no wealth left to tax.
Consider the country of Greece. The Greek government’s remarkable economic descent was aided by an unsustainable pension and healthcare system. From there it arrived at its current place – sitting precariously on the cusp of descending into third-world status. If the Greece example seems too remote, then how about the city of Detroit (and soon to be other major cities) as an illustration of failing sustainability? Ultimately, we need quality public education, thriving businesses and a legislative body focused on reform and sustainability in order to build a realistic and better future for Nevada.
Nick Rossi, founder and president of L/P Insurance Services, Inc.