Institute issues guide to solve Nevada's economic woes

CARSON CITY -- Ending the state's drug laws and deregulating its largest energy company are among recommendations of a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute on Thursday released its "Solutions 2013" guide, which also offers ways to help policymakers get the state out of its current economic mess.

But Geoff Lawrence, the institute's deputy policy director, readily admits some of his suggestions will be difficult for politicians to embrace.

For example, the report recommends:

■ Ending the enforcement of anti-drug laws. Prohibition is an unproductive use of tax dollars, and instead authorities should promote treatment options.

■ Deregulating the monopoly NV Energy, which is guaranteed an adequate "rate of return" by the Public Utilities Commission. Nevada now has the highest electrical rates in the West.

■ Joining Utah in making a concentrated effort in Congress to return to state control the 87 percent of Nevada managed by the federal government. Some of the land then could be sold by the state and used for economic development.

The guide includes other familiar conservative platforms, such as ending collective bargaining for public workers, revamping public workers' retirement plans and expanding school choice options.

The report said that more alternative sentencing options should be used for nonviolent, first-time criminals to reduce prison costs and that renewable energy requirements for Nevada utilities should be repealed.

"Politics is a sausage-making process," Lawrence said. "I don't expect it all to go through in the next session, but I think we have identified some good models. I hope legislative candidates will adopt some as part of their platforms in their campaigns."

The use of illegal drugs is a "victimless crime," and the costs of the war on drugs outweigh its benefits, according to Lawrence, who describes himself as more libertarian than conservative.

Other recommendations include:

■ Establishing an independent state auditor's office. The auditor should be elected and be free to choose where to audit and conduct performance audits of state agencies.

■ Giving "empowerment" rights to state agency directors. They would agree to performance standards and be given the right to hire and fire employees. If they achieve savings and meet their standards, then they and their employees would receive bonuses.

Lawrence recognizes that some people may object to giving such power to nonelected state agency directors, but he noted the concept already is being used in Iowa.

Washington state also has empowered its auditors to do performance audits of state agencies, he added.

What may be the most interesting part of the guidebook are its charts showing what Nevadans pay in support for schools and in taxes.

Although Nevada is widely thought to rank at the bottom in school support, Lawrence cited U.S. Department of Education findings that the state ranks 39th, with $10,377 in support per student in 2010.

And Nevada is not a low-taxed state, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Its citizens in 2009 paid $5,742 per capita in state and local taxes, ranking 29th.

State taxes were 44th at $2,618, but local taxes were $3,124, or ninth-highest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.