For the next three months, legislators in Carson City will wrestle with unprecedented challenges brought on by the global pandemic and the accompanying economic shutdown. They should be guided by the need for Nevada to end the pandemic, make our state more resilient for the next emergency, and lay the groundwork to bounce back from the crises of 2020.
It won’t be easy.
The American dream is increasingly out of reach for many, in part because the institutions people have traditionally relied on — education, business, communities, and government — are failing to help many adapt to fast-changing circumstances.
It takes more than good public policy to address these challenges. But policy is a key element, and here’s where the Legislature can make a difference.
We start by recovering stronger. The nature of Nevada’s economy meant COVID-19 hit us harder than most places. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, families and businesses are struggling to make ends meet, and the state faces a $600 million budget shortfall. We need to move quickly to make it easier for people to get back to work, lower tax burdens so families can keep more of their hard-earned money, cut red tape holding businesses back from thriving, and get our fiscal house in order.
For starters, we need to make it easier for people to find work. Nevada has one of the most burdensome occupational licensing laws in the country. Ostensibly intended to protect consumers from harm, they have a negligible effect on safety but are great at protecting special interests from competition, thus serving as barriers to employment and economic growth. We need to reform licensing laws to make it easier for Nevadans to get back to work.
Excessive regulation is another job killer. It makes government less responsive and less accountable, while making it harder for businesses and individuals to succeed. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, proposed by Assemblyman Andy Matthews, would enhance legislative oversight, increase accountability, and eliminate pointless and counterproductive regulations.
Another area in which fewer restrictions would boost the economy is legalizing short-term rentals like Airbnb and protecting the rights of property owners. This would give Nevadans the chance to earn more money and support their families. We should make it easier, not harder, for would-be entrepreneurs to compete.
Those kinds of opportunities are key to creating the kind of sustainable economic growth that would allow us to get the state’s fiscal house in order.
Lawmakers cannot solve our budget issues by increasing the tax burden on families and business already hurt by the pandemic. We need to keep tax burdens low and pursue longer term efforts to reform the tax code to make it simpler, fairer, and more conducive to economic growth. On the spending side, lawmakers should focus spending on priorities, establish hard caps tied to growth and inflation, and replenish the rainy day fund to better position us to handle economic downturns in the future.
Another aspect of the pandemic was that it made painfully obvious the regulatory barriers that prevented health care professionals from delivering care to patients in need. The governor responded with temporary reforms such as expanded use of telehealth and other steps to improve access. These reforms showed the futility of the existing restrictions, and the temporary easing should be made permanent.
The pandemic also demonstrated that the status quo is not working when it comes to educating our kids. Families have adjusted to school closings by being innovators, teaching their children at home, creating pods and micro schools, all while dealing with a system that has consistently failed to put students first. Great education policy recognizes the uniqueness of each child – that they all have different interests, talents and needs. We encourage our elected officials to promote transformation in education and support legislation that funds students instead of systems.
Nevada can recover stronger – but doing so will take an active commitment from each of us to work together. This roadmap can lead us back onto the path to prosperity. We urge our lawmakers to join us in the journey.
Ronald Najarro is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Nevada.