Earlier this year, the Nevada Policy Research Institute compiled a sourcebook of policy ideas — Solutions 2013 — intended to help Nevada lawmakers address the most pressing problems confronting the Silver State.
Now, as a class of newly elected lawmakers heads toward Carson City, NPRI suggests, for their consideration as bill draft requests, a “Top 10” set of policy priorities.
The first five such priorities were addressed in an earlier column. Here are the rest:
6. Protect workers’ paychecks. Thousands of workers in Nevada — particularly those employed by local governments — pay monthly dues to labor unions so that union officials will represent them at the negotiating table and possibly provide them with legal counsel when needed. However, union officials direct a significant share of these dues into the campaign coffers of political candidates or into other political activities.
While workers may value the representation services offered by a labor union, not all will agree with the political activities that union officials use these dues to finance. When an individual is forced to fund political activities with which he personally disagrees, just because he’s employed by a governmental entity where a union is recognized, it constitutes forced political speech and is an affront to the individual’s First Amendment rights.
A Paycheck Protection Act would cure this problem, ensuring that labor-union officials would only use for political activities the dues of members who have expressly granted their written consent.
Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 58 in the PDF, p. 56 in the book.
7. Repeal prevailing wage, or change its methodology. In 1937, Nevada lawmakers passed a law ostensibly intended to ensure that workers on publicly financed construction projects received wages reflective of local labor markets. In practice, however, this “prevailing wage” requirement has ensured that taxpayers must pay substantially higher prices for work on public projects than are paid on private construction projects. While this arrangement benefits some laborers, it reduces the number of public infrastructure projects that can be undertaken, shortchanges taxpayers and reduces the number of construction jobs available.
Nevada’s labor commissioner — responsible for setting state-mandated prevailing-wage rates — has incorporated a number of notable methodological errors into his survey that bias the responses in favor of local trade unions. Chief among these are definitions for occupational classifications that narrowly conform to union work rules. Another is the requirement that contractors report the value of employer-provided benefits on a per-hour-worked (i.e., union) basis.
The labor commissioner’s skewed methodology virtually ensures that trade unions will control prevailing wage rates.
What’s particularly frustrating is that the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation already conducts a more scientifically accurate wage survey. Done under a federal grant received through the U.S. Department of Labor, this survey reports without bias the wages that actually prevail within local labor markets.
Lawmakers could save substantial sums of taxpayer money by simply relying on the results of that DETR survey to calculate prevailing wage rates. Alternatively, the wages that actually prevail in local labor markets could be seen quite easily by simply removing artificial wage controls altogether.
Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 56 in the PDF, p. 54 in the book.
8. Remove occupational licensing requirements in fields that pose no risk of physical harm. In 2011, even as Nevada lawmakers bemoaned the state’s double-digit unemployment rate and made a public show of promoting “economic development,” many were actively placing new barriers in the way of aspiring entrepreneurs, stifling the recovery process.
An example: New legislation was passed making it a criminal offense for anyone to practice “music therapy” without first receiving a state-sanctioned license to do so.
Indeed, for more than 50 occupations in Nevada, aspiring practitioners must pass through lengthy, and often unnecessary, apprenticeship periods, pay substantial fees and receive permission from their would-be competitors in order to obtain a state-sanctioned license to go to work.
Many of these occupations — including hair-braiding, landscaping and interior design — pose no meaningful threat of physical harm to consumers. What’s more, these occupations typically serve as a pathway to entrepreneurship for individuals with modest means or limited education.
Blocking the path to entrepreneurship through such artificial barriers imposes undue hardship on individuals and stifles economic recovery in Nevada.
Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 70 in the PDF, p. 68 in the book.
9. Pursue changes to Medicaid’s benefits structure. Even before the federal Affordable Care Act attempted to impose new Medicaid mandates on the states, Medicaid was already growing at an unsustainable rate. And even despite that metastasizing cost, the health care that the program provides its beneficiaries is of a consistently declining quality.
On paper, Medicaid is one of the most generous health insurance plans in America, offering coverage for nearly every form of treatment. Nevertheless, fewer physicians accept Medicaid patients each year.
In fact, recent surveys suggest that only 40 percent of physicians accept all new Medicaid patients. Why? Because politicians routinely attempt to control Medicaid costs by reducing reimbursement payments to health care providers. As a result, most providers lose money by treating Medicaid patients and must cross-subsidize this financial loss by charging more to other clients — something most providers are loath to do.
This means that, although Medicaid beneficiaries nominally possess health insurance, their chances of actually obtaining care can be much more difficult.
Superior solutions exist, however: Policymakers could restructure Medicaid benefits around Health Opportunity Accounts — thus placing downward pressure on spending growth, while allowing beneficiaries to improve their access as they personally manage their health care purchases directly.
Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 52 in the PDF, p. 50 in the book.
10. Create a competitive marketplace for higher education. Nevada currently directs its general-fund dollars for higher education toward institutions — not toward the students who supposedly are to benefit from this spending.
The state’s preference for institutions biases students’ behavior, encouraging them to seek out programs that may be less beneficial in order to capture the skewed benefits of public spending. For instance, a student may recognize that a software development program at Truckee Meadows Community College would offer him or her the greatest personal return on investment, but it would mean losing out on the larger public expenditures that lobbyists and lawmakers channeled into UNR’s computer science department.
Higher-education dollars would be spent much more cost effectively if lawmakers replaced support for institutions with direct support for students. A tuition-support model of higher education finance would allow students to select the programs that offer them the highest value and would force institutions to be more responsive to student needs. And, if tuition support were made available for students attending any institution of higher learning in the state, Nevada might finally benefit from the emergence of major private universities currently kept out of the state by its high subsidies for UNR and UNLV.
Despite maintaining the third-lowest in-state tuition rates in the nation, Nevada’s public universities graduate fewer than half of their students within six years.
At both schools, the four-year graduation rate is a paltry 12 percent. Nevadans deserve better. A competitive marketplace can deliver.
Read more: Solutions 2013, p. 42 in the PDF, p. 40 in the book.
Geoffrey Lawrence is deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.
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