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Smoking guns and suing for schools
by Andrew Barbano
Dec 05, 2010 | 855 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For decades, Nevada has ignored her state constitutional mandate and illegally underfunded education. The only thing left is going to court.

Great minds think alike department

This past week, suing the state got serious attention from two heavy hitters from opposite ends of the political spectrum. On the Nov. 30 edition of Sam Shad’s statewide Nevada Newsmakers TV show, Nevada State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Danny Thompson warned of the legal jeopardy.

On the Dec. 1 installment of Face to Face with Jon Ralston, Terri Janison said the same thing. She currently chairs the Clark County School District Board of Trustees but will resign to become Republican Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval’s Gomorrah South community relations director.

Nothing clarifies thought like a gun to your head. In this case, I think both Mr. Thompson and Ms. Janison see the value of the political cover such legal action would provide for reluctant lawmakers and our taxophobic governor-elect.

Is reality breaking out? On Nov. 27, no less than former Tribune columnist and newly-minted Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, had a reasonable discussion about taxation with KRNV/Las Vegas Sun reporter Anjeannette Damon. Has Ira gone off his uberconservative medication?

All this underscores the severity of the situation. If lawmakers don’t act responsibly, Nevada may as well petition the federal government for removal of statehood and reversion to territorial mining camp status. Territories generally get better subsidies from the feds anyway.

“Creating a place that’s worth working in, worth living in, worth raising your family in ... Nevada is dangerously close to having lost a lot of that,” Nevada State Medical Assn. Executive Director Larry Matheis told Shad on Dec. 1. (See

Smoking gun department

A state lawmaker informs me that governments lose education adequacy lawsuits when their own research provides the evidence. Just such a study was ordered by the 2005 Legislature. It will be available along with support documents with the expanded web edition of this column at

It’s pretty damning. It showed that Nevada students were funded at 68.1 percent of “adequate” in 2003-04 and projected that spending would rise to a lofty 78.1 percent by 2008-09. Got a hunch we’re now sliding back downhill.

Last year, then-university system chancellor James Rogers published research noting all the jurisdictions which have been successfully sued under circumstances similar to or worse than Nevada’s. The study may be downloaded by accessing the web version of this column at

How we got here

I have long agreed with former State Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, that major Nevada casinos are grossly under-taxed. With the exception of a few California tribes, Nevada’s biggies enjoy the lowest levies in the world, allowing them to fund going into business against us. Nevada’s go-go growth stopped paying for itself more than a decade ago.

The mining industry had a crystal ball and got a constitutional amendment passed in 1989 which gave them Hollywood movie accounting — a tax on net proceeds. If you do it right, there’s never a net to tax.

Nevada labor helped the foreign-owned industry sell the voluntary tax as help for education, crumbs from Marie Antoinette’s cake. A non-union dishwasher now pays taxes at a geometrically higher rate than the gold diggers.

Only the Barbwire and Travus T. Hipp called it for what it was on our radio shows and writings. Mining still refuses to pay its fair share after raping and pillaging since 1872 — and we never even get kissed afterward.

My simple proposals for fixing the tax system were included on my “Suing for Schools” statewide TV special earlier this year and printed twice in this newspaper. Mining and gambling are major components, along with revisions to property taxation and elimination of corporate welfare.

Can a judge do any worse running Nevada’s educational system than the record of our Legis-lature and governors for the past 30 years? I have yet to find anyone who disagrees.

Northern Nevadans have a long history of the judiciary running large parts of the body politic. Since the 1944 Orr Ditch Decree, the U.S. District Court’s federal watermaster has managed the liquid gold of western Nevada from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid. The Reno Fire Department has operated under a federal consent decree since 1975.

In perhaps its most shining moment, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a 1992 monster series on the inadequacy and unfairness of Washoe County’s educational system. (I personally gave new Washoe superintendent Heath Morrison a copy.)

Today, even kids in higher income area schools aren’t doing that well. A few years back, an upper middle class professional family was so impressed with a new southwest Reno school’s physical plant that they bought a house across the street. To their horror, they found educational opportunities for their children so limited that they considered moving to another state.

A 2009 study showed Las Vegas area students were worse off than they were in the early-1990s when similar problems were revealed.

Time to start gathering plaintiffs. Call me.

Back from the ashes department

Support the return of community radio and television to Sparks-Reno-Washoe. See Barbwire.TV for more information, to join the club and contribute via the web.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan, political action chair and second vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP and editor of  As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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