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Opinion: Shared goals for Nevada’s healthy future

By ThisIsReno

SUBMITTED BY BOB FULKERSON
STATE DIRECTOR, PROGRESSIVE LEADERSHIP ALLIANCE OF NEVADA

Nevada’s government provides essential state services for all Nevadans through state and local employees, including teachers, police officers, and social service workers.  Prior to the economic turn down in 2007, in comparison to other states, Nevada already had the smallest number of state employees per capita and ranked near the bottom of many indicators of health/well-being. Since 2007 our state government has experienced four rounds of budget cuts. We believe it is time to stop cutting essential services and start on the path to economic recovery through thoughtful, responsible management.

The current crises that Nevada faces will impact us for decades, and as a result we need to answer some fundamental questions: What kind of a state do we want to live in?   Do we want a healthy, functioning community and well-supported public systems and services?  How can we improve our fiscal system?

Well-educated students, well-trained workers, a healthy environment and functioning infrastructure are the foundations of a strong economy.  Now more than ever we need our public systems and structures to respond to the economic situation, to provide support and protection to those hardest hit by the economic downturn, and to pave the way for a robust recovery. This is no time to dismantle the tools we need to move our state forward.  Any responsible approach to addressing the current budget shortfall requires a hard and balanced look at both how we spend money and how we bring it in.  Taxes need to be part of the equation.

Proposals are being made to go back to the budgets of 2007 which are estimated to be approximately $5.2 billion.   In 2011, we must look at what this budget means for our state.

Some basic facts about our human services budget:

  • Caseloads in all the main programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid have gone through the roof since 2007, so the proposed scale-back will require major elimination of programs, services and eligibility groups.
  • Under the Affordable Care Act we cannot legally cut Medicaid eligibility groups, which means the only legally allowable areas to cut are reductions in rates and optional services. However, while these reductions may be legal, they are devastating and unwise policy.
  • Medicaid has been kept afloat by the federal government with the increased FMAP (federal matching rate), a temporary fix, and caseloads are projected to continue to rise as the unemployment rate rises ($500 million cost to state).

Before examining the need for additional revenue, it is essential to look at possible changes to make government more efficient.  The following ideas in the Human Services area are being proposed:

  • Consolidation of all DHHS services in the rural areas.  Shift the focus from jobs to services—consider contracting with local service providers and counties.
  • Consider contracting with Tribal Health, VA Health, or private health care organizations where they exist to expand their services to serve additional rural populations.
  • Allow existing publicly funded Treatment (addiction) Agencies to also contract to implement rural General Mental Health Services.

It is important to look at the positive effect of raising revenues during a recession. The following article explains how government spending helps boost the local economy – both the public and private sector – as every dollar goes into the Nevada economy.

Elliott Parker: The Economic Principles of State Budget Cuts http://business.unr.edu/faculty/parker/Parker-memo-budget-cuts.pdf

There is great concern at what budget cuts will do to our local communities, not only from the impact on local providers and clients, but also the financial impact to the private sector of less spending in the community.  The proposals to shift spending from state to the local counties and cities will not solve the important problems we face.

Historically, increases in taxes do not appear to have affected growth in Nevada. The following article dispels the notion that taxes hurt our business community.

Elliott Parker: Do taxes kill jobs? Let’s look at the facts http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20100620/NEWS/100619423/1029/OPINION&parentprofile=1061 ,” Nevada Appeal, June 20, 2010.

It is often said that we must all tighten our belts and share in the sacrifice to get our state back on track.  Yet if our deficit is addressed with cuts alone, the sacrifices are shared solely by those seniors, people with disabilities and children who need the education and human services that make up over 80% of our state’s budget.  Compared to other states our tax burden is extremely light. To have the kind of Nevada which we value and which it will attract new business we must together invest in an infrastructure in which we can be proud.