EDITORIAL: Corruption costs

Yes, Nevada sits at the bottom of plenty of good lists and the top of lots of bad rankings. But one recently published study put Nevada way down a particularly nasty set of state ratings: corruption.

We know what you’re thinking: How did Nevada escape the top 10 on that list?

A pair of professors, John Mikesell from Indiana University and Cheol Liu from the University of Hong Kong, examined more than 25,000 corruption convictions over several decades for their report, published in the May/June edition of Public Administration Review. Mississippi tops the list as the most corrupt state in America, followed by Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, Kentucky and Florida.

Nevada placed in the bottom third, alongside states such as Arizona, Idaho, Wisconsin, Indiana and North Carolina.

Far from an exercise in hierarchy and water-cooler debate, this study had a deeper purpose. The researchers wanted to understand what enables corruption and how much it costs the public.

They determined that state-level corruption costs the 10 most corrupt states an average of $1,308 per resident per year, or 5.2 percent of those states’ average annual expenditures. It’s a staggering amount of tax money, revenues that could instead support education, health care or social services for the poor. Not coincidentally, the study determined that corruption leads to overall increased spending by state governments, on everything from public employee salaries and benefits to capital projects.

Construction and capital projects are particularly ripe for corruption, the study found, because they create opportunities for bribery. At the same time, corruption discourages private-sector investment and business start-ups because so many prospective business owners have no interest in building a plan that includes payoffs to government officials.

Nevada might have fared much worse in the rankings if variables besides convictions were considered. For example, elected officials who parlay their positions into “juice jobs” that offer substantially higher pay than the politicians could otherwise expect to receive. Or “pay-to-play” politics, in which business entities shovel out campaign contributions to the elected officials who decide whether a company can land a coveted license or zoning change.

Corruption does indeed exist in Nevada, and it’s costing us all dearly. Clean government isn’t just more ethical — it’s more affordable, too. That’s something Nevada voters — and their elected officials — should remember.


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