Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 | 2 a.m.
People moved to Nevada at the rate of more than 1,000 a week during 2019, which speaks volumes about our state’s appeal to outsiders looking for a new place to live.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the Silver State welcomed 53,000 new residents last year, which translates to a growth rate of 1.7%. Nationally, that ranked us at No. 6 in terms of the total number of newcomers and No. 2 in growth rate.
And no wonder, because the state has a lot to offer. That’s especially true in the southern region, whose attributes include reasonable cost of living, an array of things for people of all ages to do, sunshine nearly year-round, a vibrant blend of ethnic cultures and a healthy job market.
Now, the question is how we make ourselves even more attractive to newcomers. And the answer is to support strong public investment in our state and our community.
Nevada has been on the right track in recent years in that respect, particularly here in the south. The state boosted funding for public schools in 2015 and restructured the funding formula last year to put low-income schools on a level playing field. The next year, state lawmakers approved a tax increase for construction of the Raiders stadium and expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, both projects that will provide long-term economic benefits for the Las Vegas Valley and beyond.
Meanwhile, Clark County passed a tax increase in 2016 to support the hiring of more Metro Police officers, then approved another slight increase this past fall for educational and social service programs.
These were all responsible, constructive steps toward maintaining a strong economy and good quality of life in Southern Nevada.
But to maximize our potential, we have to continue to shore up our education system, infrastructure and governmental services. By supporting the kind of reasonable tax increases we’ve embraced in recent years, we can do just that.
These investments will not only benefit current residents, but they’ll have a snowball effect in bringing jobs to the valley and growing our community.
For businesses that are looking for a place to relocate or expand, strong public schools and high-quality postsecondary institutions are a major calling card. In an increasingly high-tech world, businesses are attracted to communities with K-12 schools, colleges and trade schools that can produce the highly educated and highly trained workforce that is in demand.
Good schools also play into businesses’ ability to recruit and retain high-functioning workers, who are attracted to communities where their children can receive a top-quality education.
Unfortunately, despite the increases in funding for Nevada schools in recent years, we have a long way to go to adequately support our K-12 system. Our funding level of $9,185 per student is significantly below the national average of $12,756, and we rank in the bottom five nationally in per-pupil funding when adjusted for regional cost differences.
That being the case, we should be open to reasonable tax increases and/or tax incentives to keep bolstering our schools.
The same goes for other critical needs in our community. Among them:
• Public transportation. The ever-growing strain on our roads makes light rail a necessity, as does the fact that younger Americans increasingly are shunning driving in favor of public transit.
• Affordable housing. According to reports released last year, Nevada ranks last nationally in availability of affordable homes for low-income people. Meanwhile, average rents have been on the rise in Las Vegas for the past eight-plus years, and Las Vegas ranked No. 3 among metros nationwide in year-over-year rent increases in 2019. To provide a good quality of life for the working-class residents who are the backbone of our Strip economy, it’s vital for us to provide more affordable housing options.
• Homelessness. With an estimated 5,000 people living on the streets in the valley but only 1,300 shelter beds available, this is a valleywide problem we can’t continue to kick down the road.
Unfortunately, Nevada is still saddled with some conservatives who consider any tax increases like cancer. They argue wrongly that in order for the state to continue attracting residents, it’s essential to keep our taxes to an absolute minimum.
But as shown over and over again in recent elections, the majority of Nevadans believe in reasonable public investments in our state. They’ve proven it by supporting a string of responsible, centrist candidates from both parties for positions in state leadership, including former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and current Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Let’s be clear, Nevadans are hardly overtaxed. In WalletHub’s rankings of the states based on the overall household tax rate, we placed fifth-lowest behind Alaska, Delaware, Montana and Wyoming.
So despite the sky-is-falling warnings from conservatives, reasonable tax increases for essential public needs are nothing to fear. To the contrary, they’ll make us an even stronger magnet for growth.