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EDITORIAL: Boom or bust

Nevada is no stranger to population growth. For 19 straight years beginning in the 1980s, the state was the fastest growing in the nation. The housing collapse put the kibosh on that.

But with the Silver State economy having recovered nicely in the past few years, more and more people are again relocating here. The Census Bureau last week pegged Nevada’s population at 2.94 million, up almost 2 percent from 2015. The growth rate was second behind only Utah.

“We are growing substantially, but we’re not growing at the same clip as we were,” said Jeff Hardcastle, the state demographer.

To put all this in context, Nevada’s population in 1980 was an estimated 800,500. Some time next year, the state will likely welcome its 3 millionth resident.

The nation’s migratory patterns have remained steady. The South and West continue to grow while states in the Northeast and Midwest struggle to keep pace. The trend offers a cautionary tale for Nevada policymakers — and it has nothing to do with the weather.

Eight states lost population over the past year, according to the Census Bureau, including Connecticut, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. It’s no accident that these states feature tax and regulatory climates that are hostile to growth, job creation and entrepreneurialism.

Take Illinois, for instance. While several so-called Rust Belt states have actually added newcomers in recent years, the Land of Lincoln bleeds residents, leading the country in population decline. The state is a fiscal basket case thanks to the outsized influence of government unions. Repeated tax hikes have failed to stem the flight — and have likely accelerated it.

Then there’s Connecticut. Twenty five years after the state implemented an income tax, the economy remains moribund making it less than desirable for businesses and those looking for work. The state’s tax burden is among the nation’s highest and residents and job creators have responded by leaving — more than 50,000 total in 2014 and 2015. “The best we’re doing is treading water,” a University of Connecticut analyst told Governing magazine last year. “We’re not creating new activity.”

Yes, growth brings its own set of challenges and complications. But Nevada — like Utah — remains a desirable location precisely because it offers an alternative to the job-stifling bureaucracies and tax policies so common elsewhere. The Tax Foundation ranks the Silver State fifth in the nation when it comes to the tax environment. The website Thumbtack.com last year put the state 14th for supporting small businesses.

Nevada lawmakers should seek to improve on both of those rankings, while resisting the temptation to implement policies that will inch us closer to the Connecticuts and New Yorks.

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