I’m not sure what surprises anybody could have expected from the Economic Forum meeting Wednesday.
It’s not like there was a chance members were going to discover hidden treasure and declare all of Nevada’s economic problems solved. (Hey, wasn’t that legendary Curly’s Gold supposed to be buried somewhere in Nevada?)
It’s not like there was a chance state fiscal staff were going to come say, “Oh, hey, look, we found $100 million in Nevada’s other pants pocket! We’re saved!”
Instead, over the course of more than six dry, stultifying, alpha-wave-sleep inducing hours, a panel of very serious economists and fiscal experts listened to other very serious economists and fiscal experts and tried to do what gamblers have always tried to do: peer into the future.
Lacking that perfect insight, and chastened by predictions that the recession made overly optimistic, the forum ultimately adjusted its December predictions slightly, up by about $8 million for the next few months, and $36 million for the next two-year budget. Grand total: $44 million.
To put that number in perspective, the overall general fund budget for the state over the next two years is going to be about $6.4 billion. And Nevada’s Democrats have said they need at least $310 million more than what’s already been budgeted to fund their priorities for the state’s education system, including class-size reduction, full-day kindergarten in all schools and pre-kindergarten programs designed to help students get ready for academic life.
So, we’re only, like, $266 million short.
Seriously, has anybody even really looked for Curly’s Gold?
Options to raise that much money are scarce. Although rumors were rampant that Democrats were finally ready to announce their tax plan on Thursday — the 88th day of the 120-day session — it was not to be. (The scant help from the Economic Forum may have played a role in the delay; perhaps Democrats were expecting a little more help from the slowly improving economy.)
Gov. Brian Sandoval immediately proposed dividing the newly found $44 million among education, Health and Human Services, economic development and the rainy day fund. (The continued bifurcation of education and economic development is always frustrating — when will the administration understand that education is economic development?) His statement comes on the heels of adding about $25 million in additional spending to his December budget.
For Republicans, the path forward is simple: Stick with the governor’s budget, don’t pass new taxes and move on. For the Democrats, it’s a little more complicated: They’ve already declared the governor’s budget too parsimonious when it comes to schools. Now they need more money.
So, they’re in a dilemma: They can try to introduce a tax plan in the little time that remains in the session, and try to overcome Republican resistance and a gubernatorial veto, or they can surrender and stick with the governor’s budget, too.
Anybody want to guess what they’ll do?
The 2013 session now resembles the 2011 session in most respects, and will end the same way, with lawmakers cobbling together a series of gimmicks to modestly enhance spending, but without any real reform. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, about a lack of commitment to schoolchildren and about the lack of comprehensive tax reform. The long-promised conversation about Nevada’s tax system will not result in any significant changes, just as every tax conversation over the past five decades has not. There may be a few exemptions eliminated, a few rates adjusted. But that’s it.
That’s what unfortunately passes for tax-writing policy here in Nevada: just one notch up for the search for Curly’s Gold.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.