Nevada can't cut its way out of this recession. But it can grow out of it.
That, I think, should be the philosophy embraced by Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval and other state leaders. They will have to cut some things to balance the state budget next year, but the only way to reverse Nevada's trajectory is to stimulate the economy.
Consider the news this week that the feds have green-lighted construction of a 500-megawatt solar thermal power plant in the Amargosa Valley, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The Solar Millennium Group will build its complex on 6,320 acres in the agricultural area between Pahrump and Beatty. The project will create 1,300 construction jobs and 180 permanent jobs.
And understand this: 1,300 jobs represents a huge economic boost in that neck of the state. Even the 180 permanent jobs is a big deal in recession-ravaged Nye County.
The Amargosa Valley plant is one of eight solar projects that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved in recent months. Six are in California and two are in Nevada. The first project to actually break ground is just over the Nevada border. BrightSource Energy's 370-megawatt Ivanpah plant will sit within view of Primm's casino lights. The other approved Nevada plant, the Silver State North Solar Project, will be on this side of Primm.
But wait, there's more. Not only is construction starting on solar plants, but work has begun on a vitally important power transmission line running from Southern Nevada to Idaho. This line is essential for the construction of many more renewable energy projects across the state.
This all is happening before Sandoval takes office. But this great surge of economic development has been percolating for years and is finally becoming reality on his watch.
David Leonardt, The New York Times' leading economics writer, had a front-page article this week explaining that the key to deficit reduction, as evidenced by the example of the 1990s boom, is economic growth, not tax increases or Draconian budget cuts. And the best way to spur economic growth, he argues, is "to prioritize education and science."
"The United States created the most prosperous economy last century in large measure because it was the world's most educated country," he said. "It no longer is. Federal science dollars, meanwhile, led to the creation of the intercontinental railroad, the airline industry, the microchip, the personal computer, the Internet and numerous medical breakthroughs. Yet science funding is scheduled to decline as stimulus money runs out."
This important history lesson, one hopes, is not lost on Gov.-elect Sandoval. Nevada's educational systems, from kindergarten to graduate school, are in tough enough straits already. Not only can Nevada not afford to cut education further, but it should invest more to improve the knowledge and skill levels of its citizens.
David Brooks, right-of-center columnist for The New York Times, had some intriguing thoughts the other day about how America's political leaders should approach the future. With the country "careening toward bankruptcy" by 2020, he doesn't see Republicans or Democratic leaders who have shown a genuine desire to prevent this "national disaster" from happening.
Brooks, however, is optimistic, because "serious, vibrant societies don't sit by and do nothing as their governments drive off a cliff." In the wake of President Obama's grass-roots election campaign and the tea party movement, he predicts "another mass movement: a movement of people who don't feel represented by either of the partisan orthodoxies; a movement of people who want to fundamentally change the norms, institutions and rigidities that cause our gridlock."
This movement, Brooks believes, will require a "revived patriotism" that "lifts people out of their partisan cliques" and recognizes that sacrifice of beloved liberal programs or sacred conservative tax breaks must be part of the equation to restore America's greatness. He likens this to the civil rights movement, asking "Americans to live up to their best selves."
Brooks' vision and optimism are laudable, even if in the current political climate they seem Pollyanna-ish. But in fact this is exactly the approach we should take in Nevada. Instead of getting all doom-and-gloom about our sorry lot in life, we should feel confident that Nevada's best days are still ahead of us.
When Sandoval left his lifetime appointment as a federal judge to run for governor, some wondered why. What could be better than a good job for life? Also, who wants to be the governor at a time of such economic turmoil?
But there's another way to look at it -- the way I gather that Sandoval sees things and the way I know his Democratic opponent, Rory Reid, saw things during the campaign. Nevada is on the ropes right now, but it's not on the canvas, and with serious, energetic leadership focused on economic growth, it can regain its strength and swagger. This is not a time for cynicism and apathy. It's a time for creativity and determination to do the things needed to ensure the huge rebound that's in the cards for Nevada.
Geoff Schumacher (email@example.com) is the Review-Journal's director of community publications. His column appears Friday.