Ending dental school’s bite

A new state medical school in Southern Nevada will cost a fortune. And that’s before the first student puts on a white robe.

There is no chance the Legislature will fully fund start-up costs that easily could top $100 million. So UNLV will raise the money instead.

On Wednesday, UNLV President Neal Smatresk announced a $500 million capital campaign that, a decade from now, could completely transform a campus that’s already radically different from the one that existed 20 years ago. The money would be used to launch a medical school, partially fund an on-campus football stadium and pay for other campus improvements.

It’s a good thing that UNLV is trying to make another leap forward without asking taxpayers to cover the entire bill. The days of sending a lobbying team to Carson City and having them come back with tens of millions of dollars for construction projects are over.

You know, the days that led to the opening of UNLV’s dental school.

The school was born from a consultant’s $30,000 report and the political juice of state Sen. Ray Rawson, himself a dentist, on the promise that the college would pay for itself through tuition and clinics for the poor. So the state dove in on the taxpayers’ dime, never mind that dental schools across the country already were closing because they were too expensive to operate.

Needless to say, UNLV’s dental school has never come close to paying for itself. It cost about $30 million in state money to get it up and running in 2001, and millions more dollars every year to keep it open. Worse, because Nevada has no shortage of dentists, most graduates are leaving the state to make a living. That’s a lousy return on investment.

So here’s an idea as the Board of Regents and UNLV leaders lay out a vision and detailed plan for a medical school: Help pay for the place by planning a phased closure of the dental school. If elite institutions such as Northwestern and Georgetown can muster the courage to close their dental schools, so can UNLV.

Public safety probes

Perhaps you’ve been following the great reporting of the Review-Journal’s Jeff German on the frightening conduct of Family Court marshals. A federal grand jury is investigating the marshals following a wave of claims that the officers used excessive force, wrongly arrested people and commited civil rights violations. The FBI has hauled away boxes of county documents related to the marshals.

German has written about multiple lawsuits against marshals that depict the men as a rogue force that beats up people just for speaking in the wrong tone. The allegations against marshals include groping one woman and arresting her for speaking up about it, and choking another woman while she was handcuffed to a chair in a holding cell. This is the kind of conduct that should result in jail sentences, not just civil lawsuit settlements and unpaid vacations.

What I find significant about the investigation, however, is that it’s the second federal probe into a Clark County public safety agency.

You won’t see daily news updates on the FBI’s investigation into the Clark County Fire Department, but I’m reliably told agents are still sorting through tens of thousands of email messages and documents. It might be a year, or years, before a criminal case can be presented to federal prosecutors.

We know county firefighters abused sick leave. We know they’ve rigged schedules to guarantee each other overtime and spike their pensions. We know they’ve engaged in disability fraud. What else might the FBI dig up in all those emails and documents? And how much money grabbing can be proved criminal?

The results of this investigation can’t come soon enough for taxpayers.

Another tax vote

But the probe’s conclusion can come too soon for county firefighters. You see, the property tax stream that helps fund Fire Department operations is about to sunset. And Clark County commissioners are in the unenviable position of having to ask the public to renew it.

How would you feel about being asked to keep paying your hard-earned money to someone who stole from you?

It’s not official yet, but the property tax question is highly likely to be placed on the November 2014 ballot — the same ballot that will have the state teacher union’s margins tax initiative.

Erik Pappa, Clark County’s director of public communications, said the issue has been presented to commissioners, but management has not yet asked the commission to vote on the matter.

“If the matter were to be placed on the fall 2014 general election ballot, the board would need to approve an election resolution and submit it by the third Monday in July to the Clark County registrar of voters,” Pappa wrote in an email. “The duration of the tax would be up to the board. The last one was for 20 years. How much the taxes would decrease if a measure were not considered or were not passed would depend upon property valuations at that time,” but allowing the tax to lapse or voter rejection of the tax would chop annual county revenues by about $15 million, he wrote.

Imagine how that tax would fare if federal prosecutors announced charges against firefighters and/or retired firefighters a month before the election?

Glenn Cook ( is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

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