Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Time for the Chambers of Commerce to put their mouths where their money is: Higher Education

This morning's LV Sun and RJ both report on negotiations that have begun in Carson City among legislative leaders over an alternative budget to the Governor's proposals. The Democratic majority needs a few Republican votes to support its revenue reform package while the Republican minority in both houses is insisting that the agenda of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce be enacted to reduce state expenditures.

Whats aggravating, and little commented upon in the reporting, is that the major Chambers of Commerce in Nevada -- including the largest and most influential Las Vegas Chamber; the smaller and more brazen Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce (which this week put out a brand-new list of 25 "demands" to be met before its well-heeled lobbyists will support a balanced approach to the state budget); and the less ideological and more pragmatic Henderson Chamber of Commerce-- have all already explicitly expressed support for more adequate public investment in higher education.

[The Reno-Sparks Chamber has even gone so far as to call academic research a "model public-private partnership," which is inaccurate in that there is no private developer or business patron for most research; the tens of millions of dollars of grants generated by researchers at UNR, UNLV and DRI result from the initiative and competitive success of the faculty. But more on that another time.]

The necessary state investment, of course, would require additional state revenue. Not a great deal of it but enough to match the sacrifice of students and faculty, and to enact the System's "4-point plan" to do more than merely keep the doors open but instead expand and improve access to quality higher education and support innovative research for a state that is desperately in need of both.

What is worth considering now is how those harmed by the repeated tactical manoeuvre by the Chamber to "move the goal posts," ie to change what amount to its demands before it will end its concerted opposition to revenue reform are not those whom the Chamber seems to consider the state's problem, such as firefighters, police or K-12 teachers. Those harmed by what has been called this "live hostage situation" are students, the needy and the ill. Who of course have nothing to do with local government collective bargaining rights.

But even if one accepts the the Chambers' insistence on viewing public services solely in terms of those who deliver services rather than those who benefit from them, then they are still targeting precisely those whom they ought to be supporting. After all, there is no collective bargaining for state public service workers, and health coverage for state public service workers and their families have been cut significantly already and converted into a catastrophic-coverage-only, high deductible health plan.

Even more self-defeating for the Nevada economy is the Chambers' opposition to revenue reform in light of its vocal support for higher education -- where all the changes that the Chamber and the Governor are seeking have been standard procedures for decades and even more efficiencies and streamlining has been carried out already in the past few years.

The Higher Education budget that will be closed today is a good opportunity for the Chamber to put, as it were, its mouth where its money is. It has voiced strong support for both higher education as a value to society and for the way higher education does business. Now it is time to support adequate state investment to support it, without which reforms and economic development will be irremediably harmed.

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