Policy, not politics, is what will really matter in Nevada’s 2019 legislative session.
Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in the political, rather than the policy world. After all, elections have consequences, and it’s often hard to get past the headlines pitting Republicans and Democrats against each other.
Likewise, politics too often drive policy. After all, last month’s election will have a direct impact on what policy priorities are championed in Carson City when lawmakers meet in February.
Minimum wage, tax hikes and more government spending are sure to top the list, as the new Democrat majority takes over.
Governor Elect Steve Sisolak has already made it clear that he would like to allow state workers the ability to collectively bargain — a move that would dramatically drive up spending, putting even greater pressure on taxpayers to cough up more of their hard earned dollars.
There has also been talk about “fixing” property taxes. However, as is the case when government usually discusses “fixing” a tax issue, the policies being considered are little more than tax-hikes masquerading as reform.
Indeed, for Nevadans who prefer free-markets and limited government, the next legislative session will feel almost hopeless at times — but that’s precisely why it is so important to pay attention to policy, rather than the inevitable political bickering that will dominate discussions at the capitol.
Politics are about parties, lawmakers and, to a large extent, about individuals grandstanding for attention. It’s about the cult of personality, as lawmakers from different tribes shout for the adulation of their loyal followers — decrying and demonizing “the other side” along the way.
Policies, however, are about ideas. And ideas are what drive real change.
After all, to a parent, issues like school choice are not political. While politicians might make their decisions based off the direction of a union lobbyist, school district official or special interest group, parents resort to the most basic, and personal, special interest in the world: Their child.
In other words, to a parent, the idea is personal. This is why, despite voting heavily for Democrats (who overwhelmingly have opposed educational choice programs) Hispanic voters support the idea by a margin of roughly three to one.
The idea of educational choice has broad support in Nevada. However, the political party that has traditionally fought for such a reform, the GOP, apparently does not.
And that’s precisely why, despite the hostile environment for such reform in Carson City, there remains a possibility of some progress. Parents who demand the state’s Opportunity Tax Scholarship program remain funded will be a far more powerful lobbying force than any teacher union or public-school district.
That is, provided that they actually engage in the process.
The area of government transparency, likewise, holds some promise for limited-government advocates in 2019.
While growing the size and scope of government is inevitably going to be a major focus for the leaders of the next legislative session, there remains a bipartisan coalition of policymakers who believe in the concept of a transparent and accountable government, regardless of its size.
Indeed, such policies often transcend party politics, precisely because they are not yet colored with the same partisan brush as issues like minimum wage or healthcare. They remain areas less tainted by today’s deeply divided political climate.
Admittedly, such areas are still a relatively small portion of the policies slated for discussion next year. Certainly, free market advocates won’t be able to stop every bad idea dreamt up by political leaders in Carson City, nor will we be able to will into existence all the good ones.
However, there remain some possibilities. Should parents, taxpayers and free-market Nevadans set political tribalism aside on occasion, and partner with ideological opponents for a few key opportunities, it’s quite possible some good ideas might actually become law.
Opportunity Tax Scholarships for low income students, increased transparency requirements for government and criminal justice reform that reduces government’s stranglehold on economic opportunity are just a few examples of potential progress.
Heated arguments over tax hikes, collective bargaining and minimum wage are going to be inevitable in the year ahead.
A complete loss for free market ideas is not.
Michael Schaus is communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.