Letter to Assembly Republicans

Dear Members of the Assembly Minority:

Pardon me for sending this e-mail to you all simultaneously, but I just wanted to ask for your support in limiting the budget cuts for higher education to 5%.

I know this is a difficult time, and your choices are not easy ones. In this economy, we are no longer collecting as much in taxes as we had planned for. Nevada already has a very slim state government, and it is important that we continue to provide essential public services. Education is key to helping Nevada become part of the 21st Century economy, and continue to become a better place to live.

As you know, higher education took the deepest cuts in the last session, and we have been trying our best to cope with these cuts and provide a quality education as our student enrollments continue to increase. We have been trying to be good citizens and do our part, and we also recognize the need for supporting K-12 and providing other public services. We have tried to keep our morale high so that we can retain our most productive faculty, and keep them from leaving the state. Like our colleagues in other NSHE institutions, we want to continue to be part of a university that Nevada can be proud of, to help keep our brightest minds in state and attract more business to Nevada. This last month, that effort has sometimes seemed insurmountable, as many faculty have come to think that this state no longer values higher education.

The amount of the shortfall may seem large, but it is much less than 1% of our entire state economy. Our general fund is roughly 2.5% of Gross State Product, which is about half as much as the average state, and as a percentage of our population, our state workforce is the smallest in the country.

I strongly believe in private markets, and in free trade. In general, market economies perform much better than state-controlled ones. Nonetheless, there are limits to how small government should be. Governments provide essential services, and economies which fail to provide these things fail to prosper. Public education is one of those essential services. Our state government does not need to be much bigger, but we cannot afford for it to become even smaller.

I agree that throwing money at problems does not necessarily fix them, and there are many things we could do better. Still, taking state funds away from education will do long-term damage that we will regret for decades.

I agree that tax increases are not a good idea in a recession, but spending cuts like these will do even more harm to the economy, not just to state government but also to the private sector which sells products to the state, and to its employees. Such cuts will continue the recession’s downward spiral in spending. If we can borrow to get through this, we should, as long as that borrowing is repaid once the economy recovers.

Nevada has a very undiversified tax base which has declined much more than our overall economy. We were lucky in the past, but that luck is not likely to continue. We need to get through this biennium without doing too much harm, and then we need to take a good look at creating a more efficient tax structure, one that relies on a broad base with low rates that will not be a significant disincentive to private enterprise, one that provides a sufficient rainy day fund and greater stability during bad times like this, and one that will enable us to make investments that help diversify our economy in the future.

I speak for my faculty in saying that we hope you will consider supporting what higher education brings to the state, and help us find a way out of this dilemma.


Elliott Parker, Ph.D.
Faculty Senate Chair
Professor of Economics /0030
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557-0207 U.S.A.

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