The governor's bold agenda

In one day, Gov. Brian Sandoval has initiated more major government reforms than Nevada's three previous governors championed in 22 years.

On Monday, Gov. Sandoval's top advisers made official most of the agenda he proposed during his fall campaign and outlined in his January State of the State address. More than 80 bill draft requests forwarded to the Legislature include significant changes to public education and the retirement benefits of future state employees.

The policy specifics were not surprising in the least. The importance of the proposals taking the form of bills can't be understated.

In Nevada's public schools, Gov. Sandoval wants to get rid of teacher tenure and eliminate seniority-based layoffs, which punish recent hires regardless of how they've performed. He wants to end social promotion and assign letter grades to schools to better hold them accountable to parents and taxpayers.

Gov. Sandoval also proposes a constitutional amendment to create means-tested private school vouchers. The poorest Nevada parents would get the largest vouchers, better enabling them to pull their children out of failing schools. The wealthiest Nevadans, meanwhile, would get the smallest vouchers.

To address the state's growing unfunded pension liabilities, Gov. Sandoval wants to move future state hires into a new retirement system. Current employees can collect annual pension benefits worth up to 75 percent of their highest-earning years, a promise so rich the state could go broke trying to keep it. Gov. Sandoval wants the annual pension benefits of future hires capped at 35 percent of their highest-earning years, with the rest of their retirement coming from a defined-contribution, 401(k)-style plan that greatly reduces the exposure to taxpayers.

Gov. Sandoval, in Washington for a conference with the country's other governors, was soon reminded why such ideas have gone nowhere in Carson City, and why his predecessors in Nevada have been reluctant to push for such dramatic changes. Public employee unions immediately declared their opposition. The Legislature's Democratic majority has long catered to organized labor's demands.

Considering the documented struggles of Nevada's low-achieving public schools and the state's perilous fiscal condition, Gov. Sandoval's agenda is not radical. It's common sense.

Now it's up to Gov. Sandoval to use the bully pulpit of his office and take his case to the public. He must make his presence felt in the Legislature and be unafraid to twist arms.

He must make it politically impossible for majority Democrats to ignore him.


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