Just say Home Means Nevada and pretend something rational is happening

If company towns were so great they’d be in Biden’s infrastructure plan

Gov Steve Sisolak signing legislation earlier this week that stops short of transforming anything significant anytime soon. (Governor's press office photo)

One stirring but unintentional feature of Joe Biden’s sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure proposal is how picayune Nevada’s economic policy dialogue looks by comparison.

Oh sure, no state, least of all Nevada, is in a position to propose anything on a scale comparable to what the United States government can attempt. There is no way a state could be expected to match the ambition of a nation in terms of quantity.

But quality is another story. And the ambition, innovation, vision, imagination — the quality — of the economic policy agenda under consideration in Nevada is dismal. When it’s not just daft.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues getting thoughtful attention during this year’s Nevada legislative session. There are, including tenants rights, criminal justice, and voting rights. But those measures aren’t transformative. They either ameliorate icky parts of existing state policy by rendering them somewhat less icky, or in the case of voting rights, consolidate earlier reforms.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago lawmakers were told mental health services in Nevada would have to double just to be average. If the tangible policy reaction to that jarring information were doubled, it would still equal nothing. They formed a study committee.

Low wages and unstable schedules that were making life miserable for a substantial portion of the state’s workforce even before the pandemic are among the session’s many Voldemort issues – things that must not be mentioned, lest they conjure the ill-will of some powerful but malevolent sorcerer/lobbyist.

Some teensy property tax adjustments, though flirting with bipartisan support, probably won’t withstand the fire & brimstone of the knee jerk anti-tax crowd. A mining tax reform will be shunted along for voters to decide in 2022, but it will be the meekest reform possible.

Mining is not the only industry that is thriving in Nevada, and that could and should pay more taxes to strengthen those public services in Nevada which are underfunded, i.e., all of them. But there’s an election coming up next year and the last thing the Democrats want to do is saddle any of their own, the governor, for instance, with a position — or a solution — that might upset an imaginary swing voter in Elko.

And even if Democrats wanted to say the words “let’s tax Amazon, Switch, Apple, Tesla, Google, the financial services industry, and America’s biggest corporate homebuilders,” which they don’t, they couldn’t pull it off anyway. The constitution requires any new or increased tax to be approved by two-thirds of both legislative houses, which Democrats don’t have. And Democrats are terrified of making any attempt to rid the state of that pernicious, anti-democratic clause, for a number of reasons, all of them having to do with politics and none of them with policy or the well-being of the vast majority of their constituents.

Features of the Biden infrastructure plan unveiled Tuesday include not just the usual roads and bridges stuff, expansion of public transit (a vital resource for a growing number of households, and exactly the kind of thing that won’t get done in Nevada unless the federal government does it), electrification of transit (including cars, with an accompanying charger infrastructure), extending universal broadband to rural America (this is the part sure to launch 10,000 press releases from Nevada’s U.S. Senators), and replacing every lead water pipe in the country so children, especially children of color in low-income communities, don’t have to drink from them, all Flint-like.

The package also includes measures to confront and reduce economic and racial inequality, including billions for housing, and perhaps most strikingly, $400 billion to improve wages, working conditions, access and services in a crucial sector of the U.S. economy that becomes more important every day, home caregiving.

That last item alone, were it a single piece of legislation (and who knows maybe it will have to be; President Manchin has yet to speak), would be one of the more significant pieces of workplace policy in … decades, maybe. For years the home caregiver workforce, in sheer numbers, has been growing more than any other segment of U.S. employment. Predominantly women of color, they are almost always low-paid and subjected to abusively irregular schedules. 

They are also indispensable to aging people and their families. But this is America, a land dedicated to the proposition that the more necessary a job, the less it pays and the worse its conditions. 

Biden’s infrastructure plan, the recently enacted Rescue Plan that sent you money, and another Biden administration plan forthcoming in April to address health care, child care and education, combine to form the most ambitious suite of transformative U.S. domestic legislation … ever?

Meanwhile, here in Nevada, what Gov. Steve Sisolak is selling as a “bold and creative” idea is one in which we find consultants and politicians sucking up to an accidental billionaire with more money than sense who’s jonesing to have his own town because it will give him good feelies, while in the background everyone sings Home Means Nevada, makes self-congratulatory TikToks, and pretends something rational is happening.

And so again, we must thank goodness the federal government is trying to save Nevada. Because Nevada demonstrates, every day, in countless ways, that it’s not only unable but also uninterested in saving itself.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.